28 November 1997

Unsown margins pay

FIELD margin strips managed to encourage a wide range of plant species can pay their way, and cost nothing to establish – on some soils.

Leaving a 6m wide unsown strip typically costs £17.50/100m in lost profit in a 7t/ha wheat crop, says the Game Conservancy Trust. But Country Stewardship payments of £35/100m are worth twice that.

The no-sow technique can also be used on light, chalky soils which contain few pernicious weeds and have a rich seed bank to establish permanent strips, adds Trevor West of IACR-Long Ashton. That avoids the cost of grass or grass wildflower mixes needed on heavier soils to combat weeds like cleavers and couch.

An alternative is to sow wheat to the hedge and apply nitrogen but no herbicide. Although not eligible for aid, that will still encourage some wildflowers and costs nothing, since the gross margin usually equals that of headlands which receive herbicides.