By Ken Davies

Ken DaviesUK agri-environment schemes have encouraged the development of conservation headlands and sown margins to create biodiversity in arable farmland.

Research suggests that most biodiversity and activity occurs within 20m of field margins, so this makes sense.

But many farmers are concerned about the weed problems that can arise in such headlands.

Their main worries are grassweeds such as bromes and blackgrass, although thistles, docks and cleavers can be encouraged.
Grasses also host ergot, aphids and other pathogens of adjoining crops.

Conservation headlands, where the area remains untreated with herbicide to encourage weed diversity as a food source for birds and mammals, are particularly difficult to manage.

Selective weed control is often needed, but can be tricky to apply in practice.

Sown margins can also be slow to establish, leaving plenty of space for weed species to invade, as recent trials in the SAFFIE LINK programme have shown. So how can these problems be resolved?

Do we need more research into herbicide selectivity and safety to permit more flexible plant management?

Do we need more work looking at competitive establishment techniques and seed mixtures, and on the pathogenic relationships between crops and other plants?

Or would it be it better just to ask farmers how they manage?

Ben says: “He has a big point. We need to enter these schemes with our eyes open. More understanding of management is required.”

Do you agree with Ken’s comments. Have your say on this issue on our weeds forum