With access to habitat and food, birds mammals and invertebrates make their homes in field margins, increasing biodiversity and providing benefits to farmers and their fields.
Insects are attracted to the diversity of flowering plants on the edges of fields, which can boost helpful pollinator populations. Spiders find excellent habitat in field margins and will eventually move into crop fields where they act as efficient predators of pests. Open areas with sufficient ground cover also make excellent habitat for ground-nesting birds such as pheasants and song/savannah sparrows. Several species of snakes will inhabit these areas and often feed on pests species in the fields. Small mammal populations inhabiting the field margins also provide a food source for raptors such as northern harriers, kestrels and barred owls especially along those fields bordered by woodland or shelterbelts. These birds of prey will also deter bird species that may feed on the crops in the fields. Deer, porcupines, snowshoe hare, bobcat and foxes will also forage along the field margins.
To create and maintain healthy field margins:
- Create a field margin as wide as your field will allow. Recommendations of 6m (18’) are common.
- Generally native and introduced species will quickly inhabit field margins without replanting the areas.
- If it is desirable to manage the field margins for certain species such as pollinators try to use native plant species.
- Leave ‘conservation headlands’. This is a strip of harvestable crop on the outer-most 5m (15’) of field where pesticide and fertilizer use is reduced.
- Reduce pesticide drift onto field margins where possible.
- If grassy margins are desired use non-invasive grass mixes containing some flowering plant seeds. See link below for other suitable species.
- Some farmers with orchards, vineyards and blueberry fields may want to plant scattered flowering shrubs in the field margins to help maintain native pollinators.
- A list of native plant species, as well as a list of local nurseries that carry native species
- Many of the cover crops would also make suitable cover for field margins
- Recommendations on conservation headland creation
- Guide for attracting insects using plants by Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture