Arable plant species disappearing

 

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Some of the most well-loved flowers of the British countryside are disappearing from arable fields, conservationists warned today.

Cornflowers, corn marigolds, pheasant's eye and, in some areas, poppies are becoming increasingly threatened species in the face of more intensive agriculture, plant charity Plantlife said.

The conservation group is urging farmers to help arable plants, which it says are the most threatened wildflowers, through simple steps such as providing strips of land at the edge of fields managed to allow the plants to germinate and grow.

But it warns against simply sowing commercial wildflower seed crops, which contain non-native seed for plants such as cornflower and do not have the genetic diversity, local variety or correct flowering times of wildflowers.

Cath Shellswell, of Plantlife, said many arable plant species are struggling, with corn buttercups and cornflowers now incredibly rare, while in Wales poppies are now considered rare in some areas.

"There's various reasons for their decline, the first is changing farming practices - we've intensified farming.

"We're more efficient at cleaning seed to take out all the seeds you wouldn't want to plant.

"And we tend to use more herbicides, which are there to target problem species, lots of weeds we don't want to encourage, but it also affects these flowers as well."

An increase in winter planting of crops and in some areas a switch away from arable farming are also taking their toll on wild plants, she said.

Many of the arable wildflowers are important for wildlife, with hoverflies relying heavily on daisy species and plants such as poppies providing an important source of pollen for bees.

Arable plants also provide seed food for birds such as skylark and yellowhammer and some, such as the poppy, are culturally important.

Ms Shellswell said: "Arable plants are some of our most well-loved but also some of our most threatened flowers.

"The red poppies that help us remember our fallen soldiers are iconic and part of our cultural history, yet many arable plants have all but vanished from the countryside."

Plantlife has produced guides for farmers wanting to help boost wildflower species in the countryside, with recommendations such as ploughing margins around fields to be left unsown to allow wildflowers to come through.

Areas with crops around the edge of fields that are not sprayed with herbicide can also allow wild plants to flourish.

The guides include advice on dealing with weeds and managing areas under agri-environment schemes, which pay farmers to look after the countryside for the benefit of wildlife.

While the charity warns against simply sowing commercial wildflower seed mixes, it does say that the seeds of arable plants can remain in the soil for many years, waiting for suitable conditions in which to germinate and grow.

Rough marsh-mallow seeds, for example, can remain viable in the soil for up to 180 years.

Plantlife hopes its guidelines will help farmland flourish with arable plants again.

PA

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