Mammals, agri-environment schemes and set-aside – what are the putative benefits?
1The impacts of agricultural intensification on farmland wildlife have been the subject of increasing concern, particularly over the last two decades. Population declines have occurred for a number of mammalian species, sometimes drastically so, and changes in farming practice are believed to be significant contributory factors. 2The major policy instruments for delivering environmental benefits on farmland are agri-environment schemes. These encourage farmers to adopt more environmentally sensitive farming practices to promote farmland biodiversity. Additionally, compulsory set-aside, which reduces agricultural surplus, could also have positive impacts on wildlife. In this paper we consider some of the putative benefits of agri-environment schemes and set-aside for mammals. 3We review how establishment and management options within agri-environment schemes and set-aside might affect habitat resources for mammals. For example, conservation headlands increase plant and invertebrate resources within the crop edge for mammals such as wood mice. Grassy field margins can support communities of smaller mammals, and hedgerows may act as important commuting and hunting routes. Their potential will depend on factors such as seed mixtures used, timing and severity of cutting, and length of time they have been in place. 4At a farm level, habitat heterogeneity may be increased through organic agriculture, which is supported by some agri-environment schemes. Studies suggest significant benefits to mammals, including wood mice and bats. However, it is increasingly recognized that effective conservation of farmland mammals must seek solutions at the landscape scale, addressing such issues as habitat connectivity between farms. One approach may be the better targeting of scheme agreements. 5We suggest that agri-environment schemes and set-aside can contribute to the conservation of mammals on farmland. Recent policy changes are likely to have further positive impacts on farmland wildlife but appropriate mammal monitoring programmes must be developed rigorously to assess their effects.
Author(s): MacDonald, DW; Tattersall, FH; Service, KM; Firbank, LG; Feber, RE
Journal: Mammal Review