New tools to boost butterfly habitat quality in existing grass buffer strips
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- Blake, R.J., Woodcock, B.A., Westbury, D.B. et al. J Insect Conserv (2011) 15: 221. doi:10.1007/s10841-010-9339-6
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There are approximately 29,000 ha of grass buffer strips in the UK under Agri-Environment Schemes; however, typically they are floristically poor and as such are of limited biodiversity value. Introducing a sown wildflower component has the potential to increase dramatically the value of these buffer strips for a suite of native species, including butterflies. This study investigates management practices aiming to promote the establishment and maintenance of wildflowers in existing buffer strips. The effectiveness of two methods used to increase the establishment of wildflowers for the benefit of native butterfly species were tested, both individually and in combination. The management practices were: (1) the application of a selective graminicide (fluazifop-P-butyl) which reduces the dominance of competitive grasses; and (2) scarification of the soil which creates germination niches for sown wildflower seeds. A wildflower seed mix consisting of nine species was sown in conjunction with the scarification treatment. Responses of wildflowers and butterflies were monitored for two years after establishment. Results indicate that the combined scarification and graminicide treatment produced the greatest cover and species richness of sown wildflowers. Butterfly abundance, species richness and diversity were positively correlated with sown wildflower species richness, with the highest values in the combined scarification and graminicide treatment. These findings have confirmed the importance of both scarification as a means of introducing wildflower seed into existing buffer strips, and subsequent management using graminicides, for the benefit of butterflies. Application of this approach could provide tools to help butterfly conservation on farmland in the future.