Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Arable plant species disappearing

Poppies are in decline in some areas of Wales
Poppies are in decline in some areas of Wales

Some of the most well-loved flowers of the British countryside are disappearing from arable fields, conservationists have warned.

Cornflowers, corn marigolds, pheasant's eye and, in some areas, poppies are becoming increasingly threatened species in the face of more intensive agriculture, said the charity Plantlife.

The conservation group is urging farmers to help arable plants, which it says are the most threatened wildflowers, through simple steps such as providing strips of land at the edge of fields managed to allow the plants to germinate and grow.

But it warns against simply sowing commercial wildflower seed crops, which contain non-native seed for plants such as cornflower and do not have the genetic diversity, local variety or correct flowering times of wildflowers.

Cath Shellswell, of Plantlife, said many arable plant species are struggling, with corn buttercups and cornflowers now incredibly rare, while in Wales poppies are now considered rare in some areas.

"There's various reasons for their decline, the first is changing farming practices - we've intensified farming. We're more efficient at cleaning seed to take out all the seeds you wouldn't want to plant. And we tend to use more herbicides, which are there to target problem species, lots of weeds we don't want to encourage, but it also affects these flowers as well."

An increase in winter planting of crops and in some areas a switch away from arable farming are also taking their toll on wild plants, she said.

Many of the arable wildflowers are important for wildlife, with hoverflies relying heavily on daisy species and plants such as poppies providing an important source of pollen for bees.

Arable plants also provide seed food for birds such as skylark and yellowhammer and some, such as the poppy, are culturally important.

Ms Shellswell said: "Arable plants are some of our most well-loved but also some of our most threatened flowers. The red poppies that help us remember our fallen soldiers are iconic and part of our cultural history, yet many arable plants have all but vanished from the countryside."

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