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Managing habitats for wildlife

Advice on how to create and manage habitats for wildlife on farmland. Downloadable advice sheets are also available where the habitats are options in agri-environment schemes in your country.

Arable field margins

Field margins are generally the least productive areas of a field and just a 1-metre grass strip between the outer edge of the hedge and the crop edge can benefit wildlife in many ways.

Winter wheat field at the RSPB's Hope Farm, Cambridgeshire

Beetle banks

Beetle banks are grass mounds, about 2 metres wide, that run the length of large arable fields, cutting right across the middle. They can start 20 metres out from the field edge at each end so that a field can still be farmed as one unit.

Beetlebank in arable field

Conservation headlands

Conservation headlands are headlands of cereal crops that are sprayed selectively to allow small populations of broad-leaved weeds and their associated insects to develop. Headlands should be chosen carefully to avoid encouraging a flush of highly competitive weeds.

Conservation headland

Drainage channels

As well as providing valuable wetland habitat that benefits a variety of wildlife, drainage channels can be important corridors that allow species to move through the countryside.

Ditch at West Sedgemoor RSPB reserve, Somerset Levels, England

Extensively grazed grassland

Extensively grazed grassland creates a diverse sward structure, rich in plants and invertebrates and beneficial to a variety of birds.

Cattle grazing at Corrimony RSPB reserve

Field margins on grasslands

In grassland systems, grass and broad-leaved plants that are allowed to go to seed and develop a structure that can be used by nesting birds and large, long-lived insects are particularly valuable.

Rough grass field margin

Gill/clough woodland

Sensitive management and replanting of woodland and scattered trees can benefit certain birds in the uplands. Find out more.

Bluebell in bloom, Wood of Cree

Hay meadows

The flower-rich hay meadow is now a rare and important habitat. The hay meadows that are best for wildlife are the product of traditional, low intensity farming. During June and July, the bright and varied colours in these meadows are very attractive and many people enjoy them.

Hay meadow grasses

Hedgerows

Good hedgerow management will support an abundance of insects on the farm, provide habitat for a range of birds and mammals, and provide a rich supply of food for some species throughout the year.

Hawthorn, with berries in hedgerow

Non-rotational set-aside

Non-rotational set-aside can provide food and a safe nesting habitat for ground-nesting birds throughout the nesting season, as there is no urgency to manage the land to prepare the ground at this time for a following crop.

Wildflowers within conservation headland area of set aside field

Over-wintered stubble

Over-wintered stubble provides an important winter food source for seed-eating birds, whether this is left undisturbed preceding a spring crop or specifically managed under an agri-environment scheme.

Wheat stubble

Nectar flower mixtures

Nectar flower mixtures provide flowers throughout spring and summer to supply food for insects such as butterflies and bumblebees.

A wild bird cover strip - designed to attract both twites and great yellow bumblebees

Arable land taken out of production for one year

Land voluntarily taken out of production provides wildlife benefits similar to set-aside. Natural regeneration provides a weedy stubble that offers good habitat for many seed-eating birds, arable plants and overwintering insects.

Weedy stubble left as food source for farmland birds

Scrub

Scrub is an important wildlife habitat, whether it is a few isolated shrubs or young trees, or a dense thicket. It is a natural part of other habitats, such as grassland and woodland, and an important component of the landscape.

Hawthorn scrub

Wild bird cover (or wild bird seed mixtures)

Wild bird seed mixtures provide vital food for seed-eating birds throughout winter. They are particularly important in areas where traditional food sources, such as weedy stubble and cereals fed to outdoor stock, are no longer available.

Quinoa, part of wild bird cover crop

Farm buildings

Farm buildings can provide nesting sites for a variety of birds, including barn owls, kestrels, swallows, house martins, spotted flycatchers, starlings and sparrows, and roosting sites for bats. However, birds should be excluded from food storage areas wherever possible. Otherwise, good housekeeping and hygiene measures should reduce the attraction of birds and other unwanted pests.

Dilapidated barn, Norfolk

Skylark plots

Two small skylark plots per hectare in winter cereals can increase skylark productivity by 50% and could reverse the decline of skylarks if enough farmers take this option up. They may also benefit yellow wagtails nesting in arable areas.

Skylark plot at RSPB's Hope Farm