The variety of habitats and connectivity provided by arable field margins makes them key areas for conservation in farmed landscapes (Smith, 2015). They buffer hedgerows, ponds and ditches from farming operations. They also provide refuges for small mammals and important habitat for birds and invertebrates, including pollinators. Pollinator numbers and ranges have decreased at national and local levels since the 1950’s, with some species now lost or incredibly rare. Pollinating insects include honey bee, solitary bees, bumblebees, hoverflies and other flies, butterflies, moths and beetles.
Field margins are important breeding areas for several butterfly species, including in the Upper Thames area (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire) the small skipper Thymelicus sylvestris and Essex skipper Thymelicus lineola. Both species have declined by approximately 14% over the last twenty years. This reflects the habitat indicators for butterfly populations at farmland sites in England, that show significant decreases in overall abundance both in the long-term (since 1990) and over the past 10 years.
Arable plants are considered the fastest-declining group of plants in the UK. A quarter of these species are threatened including in Oxfordshire spreading hedge parsley Torilis arvensis and broad leaved cudweed Filago pyramidata. Where cultivated margins can naturally regenerate without the use of herbicides they may promote growth of these and other rare and declining arable plants, such as rough poppy Papaver hybridum, fine-leaved fumitory Fumaria parviflora, few-flowered fumitory Fumaria vaillantii, broad-leaved spurge Euphorbia platyphyllos and the glorious annual of chalky soils pheasant’s-eye Adonis annua. Corn cleavers Galium tricornutum, an annual of arable fields, is Critically Endangered and a UK Priority Species which prior to its recent re-introduction in Wytham Woods ‘triangle’ and at College Lake BBOWT reserve, had last been recorded in Oxfordshire in the early 1970s.
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