The benefits from skylark plots far outweigh any lost income, particularly on heavy land without resistant blackgrass, according to Royal society for the Protection of Birds.

“Plots are easy to manage, and the payments more than outweigh any loss in crop income,” said RSPB research biologist, Tony Morris, who helps to run the organisation’s heavy-clay farm in Knapwell, Cambridgeshire.

Recent SAFFIE (Sustainable Arable Farming for an Improved Environment) research has found that siting them well clear of field margins (about 80m) gives chicks the best chance of survival, as they are further from potential predators.

Future Entry and Higher Level Scheme guidelines are likely to take account of such research, which is now looking at the best combination of field margin management and skylark plots.

Mr Morris recommends that growers sowing margins on heavy land should use either a grass mix or a grass/ flower mix to help overcome difficult weeds in the seedbank.

While a fine grass/ flower mix may be more expensive, it improves biodiversity considerably, he said. “Ask the seed supplier to tailor the mix to suit your soil type.”

He urges growers to find out more about environmental management before deciding what to do. “The first step is to decide what you’re trying to do – what species you want to encourage and what habitat balance is appropriate for your region and soil type.”

You can learn how to manage wildlife for profit on your farm at the 2006 Crops/ Farmed Environment Company Annual Conference – “Wildlife Is The Business of Farming” – at Chilford Hall, Linton, Cambs, on Tuesday 7 February.

Click here to see the full conference programme, or email crops@rbi.co.uk, telephone 020 8652 4081 for more information and to book your place.

The annual FEC/Crops Conference is sponsored by Guild of Conservation Grade Producers, Frontier and Syngenta Crop Protection.