Farm landscapes in Europe all present mosaic structures of crop and semi-natural habitats, within which human and wildlife communities exist. The main semi-natural features on farmland are field boundaries, which can include hedgerows, watercourses, grass strips, walls and woodland. Field boundaries are the interface between agriculture and the wider semi- natural environment. It is here that problems occur with crop protection, environmental deterioration caused by agrochemicals and conflict between farm and wildlife. Farmers commonly perceive that weeds, pests and diseases spread into crops, particularly from field boundaries. However, this may be true only for a small proportion of species.
The encouragement of diverse semi-natural habitat, by explicit management of the boundary as a buffer, may benefit farmland, by reducing the vulnerability of crop monocultures and increasing environmental quality. In addition, weed ingress may be reduced and populations of beneficial insects enhanced, reducing the need for herbicides and insecticides.
In this proposal we seek to understand the processes at work across this ecotone (ecological tension belt) and to exploit these by management for the benefit of the crop and farm wildlife, optimising the use of biological resources on farms.
This programme will address two key areas:
a) quantification of the effects of field boundaries on the physico-chemical environment and plant and animal communities in contrasted cropping ecosystems and landscape types and
b) development of practical methods of enhancing the biological diversity of field boundary habitats in the farm environment.
Specific tasks will examine the flux of agrochemicals, biological processes governed and distorted by these fluxes and other environmental factors, population resilience originating from other semi-natural elements in the landscape and the effects of increasing biological diversity. The crop-boundary interface will be described in a model combining parameters for ecosystem processes (production, fluxes, diversity and landscape scale), so that we can reach general conclusions applicable across the Community.
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