British Association for the Advancement of Science: Pesticide-free farm zones provide haven for wildlife

WILD ANIMALS and plants are benefiting from farmers who leave a 6-metre (20ft) wide strip of land around their fields where they spray little or no pesticides.

These 'demilitarised zones' provide a safe haven where birds, beneficial insects and wild flowers can flourish, Nigel Boatman, a scientist with the Game Conservancy Trust in Hampshire, said.

'Because field margins are generally the most important areas for wildlife on arable farmland, it is possible to alleviate some of the adverse effects of modern farming by modifying management practices on the outer few metres of crop only, leaving the farmer free to farm the rest of the field with economic restraints his only consideration.'

Leaving pesticide-free strips around fields has been shown to increase the survival of grey partridge chicks by two or even three times, he said. 'It is rapidly becoming apparent that other groups of wildlife are also benefiting and further research has shown the way in which these benefits arise.' The strip also acts as a buffer against pesticides drifting into hedgerows and killing endangered species such as rare butterflies. The effects on farming of such conservation measures are 'negligible', Dr Boatman added.