Multifunctional field margins for the delivery of ecosystem services (water quality protection, pollinator support and bio-control)


This study aims to establish to what extent vegetative buffer strips can be designed to fulfil multiple functions and provide ecosystem services such as improved water quality, pollination services, and biological control.


  Agricultural intensification has led to a decline in heterogeneity within the landscape, causing decreases in biodiversity. With the removal of hedgerows and other natural barriers between fields, important wildlife habitats have been lost, removing also the ecosystem services that they deliver. The future availability of land for reducing these losses is restricted due to food production requirements and other land use pressures. This is increasing the desirability for multifunctional land management options to enhance the environment and the delivery of ecosystem services. Recent reviews on existing literature have highlighted multiple benefits of in-field and riparian buffers to provide ecosystem services such as water quality protection, pollinator support and bio-control (Randall et al. 2012; Randall & James 2012). However the current default vegetative buffer is known as a ‘grassy strip’ and its composition and management is not always specifically defined. A need to identify opportunities to maximise ecosystem services provided by buffer strips and field margins has been highlighted by Hackett & Lawrence (2014) and Stutter et al. (2012).

  This project will investigate the potential for delivering both water quality protection and biodiversity enhancement (particularly pollinators and other beneficial invertebrates) through refined selection of plant species on riparian buffer strips. A systematic search of scientific literature and other resources will be used to create a plant trait evidence matrix. Field surveys of existing riparian buffer strips with known histories will be conducted. These surveys will gather more information on plant traits and their ability to provide the target ecosystem services, which will be incorporated into the plant trait evidence matrix. This information will be used to create seed mixes which will be sown on micro- and in-field plots with different soil types to test the ability of the plant species to provide the target ecosystem services. The establishment and ongoing community composition of the experimental plots and the existing riparian buffer strips will also be recorded.

  Information discovered by this project will be used to develop a model for recommendations for establishment and management of multifunctional field margins. This will be made available to policy makers and hopes to provide a source of information for the construction of a more cost-effective and beneficial riparian buffer strip to both the farmer and the environment.


Hackett, M. & Lawrence, A. (2014) Multifunctional role of field margins in arable farming. ECPA, CEA, ADAS UK Ltd.

Randall, N. P. & James, K. L. (2012) The effectiveness of integrated farm management, organic farming and agri-environment schemes for conserving biodiversity in temperate Europe - A systematic map. Environmental Evidence, 1(1), 4.

Randall, N .P., Donnison, L. M. & Lewis, P. J. (2012) How effective are slurry storage, cover or catch crops, woodland creation, controlled trafficking or break-up of compacted layers, and buffer strips as on-farm mitigation measures for delivering an improved water environment? Environmental Evidence, 1(1), 12.

Stutter, M. I, Chardon, W. J., and Kronvang, B. (2012) Riparian buffer strips as a multifunctional management tool in agricultural landscapes. Journal of Environmental Quality, 41:297–303.

Funding Body

BBSRC, Syngenta and Harper Adams University


Blowers, CJ; Cunningham, HM, Wilcox, A, Randall, NP (2017). What specific plant traits support ecosystem services such as pollination, bio-control and water quality protection in temperate climates? A systematic map protocol. Environmental Evidence, 6:3.

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