The biodiversity of intensive
grasslands can be improved by providing conservation strips a few metres wide around
silage fields. In the spring, these strips are not cut for silage. The result is the
establishment of areas with a wider selection of grasses as well as wild flowers such as
Black Knapweed (left).
These areas will be used by
ground nesting birds such as pheasants which like to nest in grass. They are particularly
vulnerable in silage fields in the spring. This is because the crop is cut at a time when
most hen pheasants are actually nesting. Where commercial game shooting takes place,
the increase in pheasant numbers also provides more income for the business. This income
adds an incentive to provide conservation strips. Other crops are often provided for game
and this in turn adds to the biodiversity of the all-grass farm.
By mid summer these
conservation strips support a very large number of invertebrates, from butterflies to
predatory Soldier Beetles (left). These high invertebrate numbers are an important food source for young
game birds. The seeds of the various plants also provide food for seed-eating song birds
such as Gold Finches. Large numbers of voles and other small mammals thrive in the long
grass and in turn they may be predated upon by kestrels, owls, stoats, weasels and foxes.
Conservation strips have
significant disadvantages for the farmer. There is a loss of yield. In addition there is
the likelihood of a year-on-year build-up of weeds, such as thistles and poisonous plants
such as Ragwort (left). These provides a reservoir of weed seeds to contaminate the adjacent grass
crops. Where this occurs, conservation strips may need to be mowed or grazed in late