Establishing wildflower margins to improve biodiversity

Date published: 24 July 2019

Damien McAllister and his father Eamon have a mixed beef and sheep farm just outside Portglenone, Co Antrim. They finish store lambs off grass and graze dry stock during the summer months and aim to feed only grass where possible. They also grow some forage crops for use during the winter months.

Damien McAllister form just outside Portglenone discussing his wildflower margin with locally based CAFRE Agri-Environment Adviser Mary Ann Alexander.

Damien and Eamon have a keen interest in improving the biodiversity on their farm and because of this they chose to create a pollinator margin with wildflowers which is available through the Environmental Farming Scheme (EFS). Wildflowers provide pollinators with nesting sites and a food source to prevent their extinction. One third of our 98 bee species are threatened with extinction from the island of Ireland.

The option requires a mix of at least five wild flowers sown in March to May in suitable sites. Damien’s mix included corn cockle, corn flower, corn marigold, corn poppy, night-flowering catchfly and corn chamomile. These begin to flower in June and will continue to the beginning of October. 

The ideal location is improved arable and temporary grassland (sown to grass for less than five years). It must not be sited on Permanent Grassland Sensitive (PGS) fields. The choice of site is important – avoid planting under overhanging trees, next to tall hedges, in wet sites or on land facing north or east.

Damien found the wildflowers relatively easy to establish. He sowed the seed mixture on a fine seed bed using a fiddle and then rolled it. Damien emphasised that moisture was critical after sowing and the ideal time for sowing was after a few dry days and just before some wet weather.

He chose the site as it is away from the main block of ground and was traditionally used for silage but in recent years has been sowed with sunflowers. An aspect of the option that he liked is that it does not permanently remove the ground from production. The margin must be maintained until the 15 August which allows for a winter crop to be sown if desired. However, the margin was left in over the winter because there was still insect activity and birds feeding after August. This also provided the soil cover over winter. 

The wildflowers have been a great success for Damien and Eamon and they are both very happy with how it has worked for them. With careful implementation, the option has visibly improved biodiversity with a colourful margin established with lots of pollinator activity. The wildflowers have attracted plenty of visitors - both pollinators and people. The margin has been featured in shoots, on the BBC weather and was the site for four marriage proposals last summer!

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