Sustainable Arable Farming for an Improved Environment (SAFFIE): Managing winter wheat sward structure for Skylarks Alauda arvensis

Antony J. Morris, John M. Holland, Barbara Smith, Naomi E. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Citations (Scopus)


Research has shown a close correlation between the decline of the UK Skylark Alauda arvensis population and the replacement of spring-sown cereals with winter-sown varieties, in which advanced sward development prevents successful multiple nesting attempts and reduces access for foraging. Widescale reversal of sowing times is unlikely for commercial reasons, so research has recently focused on ways of manipulating the sward structure of winter wheat to prolong access to nest-sites and food. An RSPB pilot study investigated leaving small 'undrilled patches' in otherwise conventionally managed winter wheat crops. This option was later incorporated into a fully replicated experimental design, as part of the Sustainable Arable Farming For an Improved Environment (SAFFIE) project. This large consortium-led project aims to test solutions for improving biodiversity within winter-cereal-dominated rotations. The experiment described here ran over 2002-3, with three field-scale 'treatments' on 15 sites in the first year. The treatments compare (1) conventional winter wheat, (2) winter wheat sown in double-normal width (25 cm) wide-spaced rows (WSR) and (3) winter wheat with two 4-m by 4-m undrilled patches per hectare (UP). Results from the 2002 breeding season showed that undrilled patch treatments supported more breeding Skylarks for longer, most likely by aiding accessibility of food. WSR rows were little used by Skylarks and did not improve the abundance of favoured seed and invertebrate food items over conventional crops. Nesting performance and foraging patterns are discussed with reference to invertebrate food abundance and its accessibility, as determined by sward structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-162
Number of pages8
Issue numberSUPPL. 2
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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