As a FWAG adviser I am lucky to work with many enthusiastic and knowledgeable farmers keen to take forward a wide variety of environmental projects. Wherever possible I encourage farmers to go a bit further, try something new and make a small change for the environment. The greatest opportunity to make something happen often coincides with the decision to join a new environmental scheme.

When our own farm entered a new Mid Tier agreement a few years ago we took the chance to try some new options and included a small area of over-winter stubble. The stubble follows our whole-crop barley which is taken off towards the end of July and would usually be drilled straight back into roots for winter sheep keep. A one acre plot is now left to regenerate naturally; the earlier harvest of the whole-crop allows time for a good weedy stubble to develop over the autumn and carry through into the winter months. 

I realise that “good” and “weedy” are not generally words which farmers put together, but I have been pleasantly surprised by what has grown. In the first year I noticed corn spurrey – one of suite of vulnerable arable plants – which I have not seen on the farm before. Together with field pansy, scarlet pimpernel, deadnettle, speedwell and good cover of other flowering plants the plot provides a valuable late source of pollen. There have also been noticeably more birds foraging over the area for seeds and insects during the autumn and winter.   

This year we have seen brown hares back on the farm for the first time in about ten years. We walked out to see them most evenings over the summer months and watched them chasing around at dusk. Our farm has most of the things that hares like – mixed cropping, open landscape and scattered woodland – but nothing has changed significantly over the last 10 years…apart from the over winter stubble!


Our 5 year Mid Tier agreement is now nearing its end and who knows, building on the success of the over winter stubbles, perhaps I will be able to persuade my family to go a bit further, try something new and make another small change for the environment? For more information on arable plants visit the Plant Life website here...