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Cereal-based whole crop silages: A potential conservation measure for farmland birds in pastoral landscapes

Comparison of biodiversity benefits and agronomic yields of winter-sown wheat and spring-sown barley.

Year of Publication2011

Declines of farmland birds have been pronounced in landscapes dominated by lowland livestock production and densities of seed-eating birds are particularly low in such areas. Modern livestock production often entails a simple cropping system dominated by ley grassland and maize grown for animal feed. These crops often lack invertebrate and seed resources for foraging birds and can be hostile nesting environments. Cereal-based wholecrop silages (CBWCS) offer potential benefits for farmland birds because they can be grown with minimal herbicide applications and can be spring-sown with following winter stubbles. We compared the biodiversity benefits and agronomic yields of winter-sown wheat and spring-sown barley as alternatives to grass and maize silage in intensive dairy livestock systems. Seed-eating birds foraged mainly in CBWCS fields during summer, and mainly on barley stubbles during winter and this reflected the higher densities of seed-bearing plants therein. Maize and grass fields lacked seed-bearing vegetation and were strongly avoided by most seed-eating birds. Production costs of CBWCS are similar to those of maize and lower than those of grass silage. Selective (rather than broad-spectrum) herbicide application on spring barley crops increased forb cover, reduced yields (by 11%) but caused only a small (<4%) increase in production costs. CBWCS grown with selective herbicide and with following winter stubbles offer a practical conservation measure for seed-eating farmland birds in landscapes dominated by intensively-managed grassland and maize. However, the relatively early harvesting of CBWCS could destroy a significant proportion of breeding attempts of late-nesting species like corn bunting (Emberiza calandra) or yellow wagtail (Motocilla flava). Where late-breeding species are likely to nest in CBWCS fields, harvesting should be delayed until most nesting attempts have been completed (e.g. until after 1st August in southern Britain).

Citation

Peach, W. J., Dodd, S., Westbury, D. B., Mortimer, S. R., Lewis P., Brook, A. J., Harris, S. J., Kessock-Philip, R., Buckingham, D. L., Chaney, K. (2011) "Cereal-based whole crop silages: A potential conservation measure for farmland birds in pastoral landscapes"Biological Conservation 144 (2) pp 836-850

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Additional keywords/tags

maizeselective herbicidesilagelivestock systemsagri environmentdairy farmingfarmland birds
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Supporting the development of the national rural economy.

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