Non-crop vegetation in agricultural landscapes can provide a range of important ecological services, including conservation of native flora/fauna and the enhancement of pollination efficacy and biological pest control. Not only pollinators, but also many biological control agents depend on flowering vegetation as a source of nectar and pollen. The scarcity of floral resources in modern horticultural and arable systems severely constrains predator survival, limiting the effectiveness of biological pest control. In addition, flowering field margins can also be a crucial element in the divertion or interception of pest insects (trap crops). However, the effectiveness of field margins in delivering pest control services strongly depends on their botanical composition. Currently, non-crop elements are typically designed for one particular ecosystem service, often rendering them suboptimal for other functions.
In previous work, we have been able to show that it is possible to stack and optimize conservation and agronomical benefits through an informed selection of floral resources and a rational design of agro-ecosystems and landscape structure. This largescale project applies this multifunctional approach to focus on ecosystem services that are of direct benefit to UK agriculture, and conservation.
The project aims at developing species compositions for perennial field margins. It involves composing and testing field margin prescriptions across horticultural rotations that support biological pest control and pollination, combined with benefits in terms of bird conservation. The project will focus primarily on horticultural crops, where special challenges exist in maintaining high produce quality. Developing alternative pest control techniques in such crops is of paramount importance in the light of factors such as the EU Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive, compliance with supply chain stewardship schemes, and increasing consumer concerns regarding the use of synthetic pesticides on food produce.
Funding for the work is being supplied through Defra's Horticulture LINK Programme (project HL0192: Perennial field margins with combined agronomical and ecological benefits for vegetable rotation schemes), providing a partnership between industry, government and academia. This partnership brings together the whole of the supply chain on the Project, including several well known retailers, seed suppliers and organisations representing horticultural and arable growers.
The final output will include recommendations for use and management of these field margins with a proposed goal of their inclusion in future Environmental Stewardship Options. A database will be set up to collate experience and knowledge from this and related functional biodiversity projects in order to make this information accessible to end-users.