Managing arable weeds for biodiversity
Westbury, Duncan B.
As a result of the recent intensification of crop production, the abundance and diversity of UK arable weeds adapted to cultivated land have declined, with an associated reduction in farmland birds. A number of questions need to be addressed when considering how these declines can be reversed. Firstly, can the delivery of crop production and biodiversity be reconciled by spatially separating cropping from designated wildlife areas? A number of subsidised environmental schemes in the UK take this approach and are focused on establishing vegetation cover on uncropped land. However, because of the lack of regular disturbance in these habitats, they are dominated by perennials and they therefore have limited potential for promoting the recovery of annual weed populations. A number of farmland bird species also rely on the provision of resources in field centres, and it is therefore likely that the recovery of their populations will rely on weed management options targeted at the cropped areas of the field. This raises two further questions. Firstly, is it possible to identify beneficial weed species that are relatively poor competitors with the crop and also have biodiversity value? Secondly, are the tools available to manage these species at acceptable levels while controlling pernicious weeds? A number of approaches are being employed to answer these questions, including predicting yield loss from weed competition models and exploiting herbicide selectivity. The further development of these tools is crucial if farmer opposition to managing weeds in crops is to be overcome. (c) 2007 Society of Chemical Industry.