As summer develops the rural landscape changes too, farmers are busy cutting hay for winter feed and gathering silage to feed dairy cattle whilst they’re housed indoors.
The changes aren’t solely confined to our grasslands: arable fields progress through a rainbow of colours, from bright green to golden yellows. The uniformity of arable crops achieved by farmers is remarkable – arrow straight lines resultant of GPS guided tractors and very few, if any weeds contaminate the land.
Such monocultures aren’t prime locations for thriving complex ecosystems, equally thriving complex ecosystems don’t tend to be the most effective way of growing food for a booming human population. The word compromise comes to mind.
The Oxford Dictionary defines a weed as “a wild plant growing where it is not wanted and in competition with cultivated plants”. However, what you or I might class as a weed other animals and plants class as their food source and home. So we have to share the land, custodians rather than capitalisers.
To achieve this farmers undertake various practices to try and ensure modern agriculture can work side-by-side with nature. Surrounding every field are margins at least two meters wide but often greater where land boarders woodland or water courses.
The margins provide space for hares and small mammals that, in turn, provide food for barn owns and kestrels. Small birds including grey partridge, skylarks and tree sparrows also benefit from the nesting and feeding potential of this uncultivated land and of course plants do too. Cornfield wildflowers no longer populate crops as they once did but can find a home alongside them instead.
Cereals account for around 51% of all arable land, providing an estimated 400,000km of field edges, all of which act as corridors allowing wildlife to move around mankind and between habitats.
So whilst it might be tempting to look at an arable field and think nothing exists other than crops, think again. Combining field margins with dedicated areas providing nectar for butterflies and bees or seed for over-wintering birds, means there is scope within farming to support nature too.