Tailored fields of wildflowers through crop fields trialled in the UK as an alternative to pesticides

Stripy fields of wildflowers have been planted through crop fields across England as a way to reduce the use of pesticides.

It comes as studies have shown that using wildflower margins to support insects including hoverflies, parasitic wasps and ground beetles slashes pest numbers in crops and even increases yields.

The strips were planted on 15 large arable farms in central and eastern England last autumn and will be monitored for five years, as part of a trial run by the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH). The flowers planted include oxeye daisy, red clover, common knapweed and wild carrot.

Previously, wildflower strips were only planted around fields, meaning the natural predators are unable to reach the centre of large crop fields. By planting wildflowers through crop fields allows pest-eating insects to travel throughout crop fields, rather than being limited to the perimeter.

In the new field trials, the strips are six metres wide and take up just 2% of the total field area. Planting strips 100m apart means the predators are able to attack aphids and other pests throughout the field. They will be monitored through a full rotation cycle from winter wheat to oil seed rape to spring barley.

In-field wild flower strips’ focus is on supporting diverse communities of predatory and parasitic insects that kill pests. Research increasingly suggests that complex communities of predators and parasitoids are the most effective at controlling pests.

Dr Ben Alex Woodcock of CEH said: “By sowing specific grasses and wildflowers we can target the resources provided by in-field strips and normal field margins to benefit the greatest diversity of important predators. For example many parasitic wasps need access to open flowers so that they can feed on pollen and nectar. Without this resource the number of eggs they can lay is dramatically reduced, and with it pest control.

“The in-field flower strips are also designed to provide early season pollen and nectar resources for important crop pollinators, such as bumblebees and solitary bees. In this respect they should provide dual benefits – enhanced natural pest control and crop pollination.”

The UK trial follows work undertaken in Switzerland where similar field trials have planted strips of flowers such as cornflowers, coriander, buckwheat, poppy and dill through crop fields.

Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea

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