Plant/bird diversity within set-aside fields
 
Whilst a great deal has been published regarding the value of set-aside to wildlife, little information seems forthcoming regarding the various types. Some four different types of set-aside were identified at Eakring and Kersall for comparison back in 2000.

Set-aside types and plant variety

All four types were quite distinctive in their aspect of plant species/coverage and bird use/species variation.

 
Type A .... set-aside from former cereal crop, sprayed the previous Autumn
 
This was (unfortunately) the commonest example of set-aside found. Spraying of herbicide after harvesting the previous Autumn, reduced to a huge extent the variation of plants growing in the same field the following year.

Plant Species: Each field of this type was dominated by substantial former crop self-seeding with various grasses. Plants that were quick to become established included Pineapple Weed Chamomilla suaveolens, Ribwort Plantain Plantago lanceolata, Dandelion Taraxacum officionale and Common Chickweed Stellaria media.

 
Type B .... set-aside from former cereal crop not sprayed by herbicide
 
This was the second commonest set-aside. As expected, plant variety was greater. Non spraying allowed more biennial and perennial plants to become established amongst the self-sown cereal remaining from the previous year's crop.

Plant Species: Field Pansy Viola arvensis, Common Storksbill Erodium cicuatrium, Common Fumitory Fumaria officionalis, Shepherd's Purse Capsella bursa-pastoris, Common Chickweed Stellaria media, Pearlwort Sagina procumbens, White Clover Trifolium repens, Dock Rumex obtusifolius, Common Nettle Urtica dioica, White Dead Nettle Lamium album, Groundsel Senecio vulgaris, Dandelion Taraxacum officionale, Common Cat's Ear Hypochoeris radicata, Field Bindweed Convolvulus arvensis, Ribwort Plantain Plantago lanceolata, Pineapple Weed Chamomilla suaveolens, Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare were all recorded growing.

 
Type C .... set-aside resulting from former beet crop
 
Set-aside from a former beet crop was at first more sparsely vegetated than all three other types. This is largely due to the very late harvesting of beet and the fact that it's large, fleshy leaves prevent the germination of most other plants. Those that grow the following year are mostly annuals (quicker growing than beet, and able to compete for light before laying down seed again) and biennials (likewise, very quick to become established). The harvested fields remained bare until well into the Spring. When allowed to remain for a second year, the plant variety became the larger of all four types.

Plant Species: Bulbous Buttercup Ranunculus bulbosus, Poppy Papaver rhoeas, Field Pansy Viola arvensis, Common Storksbill Erodium cicuatrium, White Campion Silene alba, Red Campion Silene dioica, Common Fumitory Fumaria officionalis, Shepherd's Purse Capsella bursa-pastoris, Wild Mignonette Reseda lutea, Common Chickweed Stellaria media, Pearlwort Sagina procumbens, Black Medick Medicago lupulina, Red Clover Trifolium pratense, White Clover Trifolium repens, Common Sorrel Rumex acetosa, Dock Rumex obtusifolius, Common Nettle Urtica dioica, Scarlet Pimpernel Anagallis arvensis, White Dead Nettle Lamium album, Groundsel Senecio vulgaris, Dandelion Taraxacum officionale, Common Cat's Ear Hypochoeris radicata, Yarrow Achillea millefolium, Rosebay Willowherb Epilobium angustifolium, Great Willowherb Epilobium hirsutum, Field Bindweed Convolvulus arvensis, Ribwort Plantain Plantago lanceolata, Pineapple Weed Chamomilla suaveolens, Daisy Bellis perennis, Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare and Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense.

 
Type D .... one/three year old set-aside from Kale crop
 
Just one small field of Kale was grown, situated east of and near to Eakring Flash. Presumably grown to aid the rearing of Pheasants, the field (as so often is the case where land is geared towards Pheasant rearing) became increasingly important for many species of birds, due to it's attractiveness as a food source resulting from growth of many seed-bearing plants during it's second year. By the end of 2000, the field remained unharvested and (thanks to the continued non-use of herbicides) a variety of mostly biennial and perennial plants became established.

Plant Species: Creeping Buttercup Ranunculus repens, Nipplewort Lapsana communis, Dock Rumex obtusifolius, Common Nettle Urtica dioica, White Dead Nettle Lamium album, Dandelion Taraxacum officionale, Yarrow Achillea millefolium, Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare and Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense.

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Lapwings preferred A and B type set-aside fields for breeding

  Variations in use by birds

Most set-aside fields were surrounded on all parts by hedges, many of which were cut during the latter half of the year. Those that were left to grow, certainly held a slightly higher number of breeding birds, especially Yellowhammer and Linnet. These two species certainly seemed to benefit from a less restricted hedgerow, especially if there was also additional heavy grass or plant growth.

Whether hedges present were cut or not, did not appear to have any real effect on the actual frequency of bird use, except for the available breeding habitat much closer to the potential food source. What really did matter, was the variety of plants that these set-asides contained. Fields with a greater diversity of plant life resulted from a non hebicidal spraying policy. Types B and D, attracted and often held much larger numbers of birds over the Autumn and Winter period than the others, and fields with a copious amount of vegetation, attracted different species to those fields sparsely vegetated such as type C.

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Situation and species' attraction

Another factor in species' attraction, was situation. Some fields were in more open parts of the area, with little or no surrounding hedgerows.

Type A: Shorter grass/self-sown cereals - larger areas of bare soil - large open field - little/no hedgerow. Example - Previous Summer-one year old former cereal crop - sprayed with herbicides. .....Bird species: Linnet, Quail, Greenfinch, Lapwing, Chaffinch, Turtle Dove, Pheasant and Sky Lark.

Type B: Shorter grass/self-sown cereals - smaller areas of bare soil - large open field - little/no hedgerow. Example - Previous Summer-one year old former cereal crop - unsprayed with herbicides. .....Bird species: Linnet, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Pheasant, Red-legged Partridge, Grey Partridge, Lapwing, Turtle Dove, Sky Lark, Fieldfare, Quail, Wood Pigeon and Stock Dove.

Type C: Open, predominantly bare field - limited plant growth. Example - One-two year old set-aside resulting from former sugar beet crop. .....Bird species: Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Yellow Wagtail, Skylark, Wheatear, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Fieldfare, Red-legged Partridge, Grey Partridge, Chaffinch, Tree Sparrow and Linnet.

Type D: Long grass/tall plant growth - little or no bare soil - small fields with complete hedge. Example - Two-three year old set-aside/former Kale crop. .....Bird species: Linnet, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Yellowhammer, Goldfinch, Song Thrush, Dunnock, Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrow.

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General set-aside guidelines for farmers

There are certain guidelines issued, which farmers must follow in order to receive any payment. Set-aside is not just a matter of farmers leaving land uncultivated for a season. The idea of set-aside land was introduced in 1992, as part of the Common Agricultural Policy to reduce the amount of crop/food output. Payments for set-aside arable areas are made to farmers to compensate for the resulting losses from non cultivation. Small farms of less than 15.5 hectares are not included in the scheme and the acreage of land for set-aside varies from year to year.

Since it's introduction, the amount of land ascribed to the scheme has usually been 5%, but in 2000, this was increased to 10%, despite pressure for it to remain at past levels. Farmers can rotate land for set-aside use or existing fields over a number of years, as long as the level of required area is not broken, but any area used as pasture can only be grazed on a non profit basis, such as for private ponies or horses where no payment is charged. Fields used for set-aside here are rotated on a yearly basis. Existing land features (farm buildings, trees, hedges etc) must be maintained whilst set-aside is present. Since the introduction of the set-aside scheme, some rule amendments have been made to aid wildlife and farmers are generally encouraged to create set-aside near woodland, hedges, rivers, lakes or ponds. Land adjacent to such areas is more likely to be colonised by both flora and fauna.

Re-cultivation of land is to occur at a time when there is the least possible impact upon existing wildlife. This usually takes place in June, with an initial spraying of herbicide. Failure by farmers to spray by the end of June, results in non-payment.

 
Related pages
 
  • Set aside strips Set aside strips and how the Stewardship Scheme has benefitted the area's wildlife
 
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