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Keywords:

  • agri-environment scheme;
  • bumblebees;
  • butterflies;
  • cutting;
  • grazing;
  • intensive grassland;
  • pollinators

Summary

  • 1
    Increased agricultural intensification has led to well-documented declines in the fauna and flora associated with intensive grasslands in the UK. We aimed to quantify the effectiveness of different field margin management strategies for putting bumblebee and butterfly biodiversity back into intensive grasslands.
  • 2
    Using four intensive livestock farms in south-west England, we manipulated conventional management practices (addition of inorganic fertilizer, cutting frequency and height, and aftermath grazing) to generate seven grass-based treatments along a gradient of decreasing management intensity. We also tested two more interventionist treatments which introduced sown components into the sward: (i) a cereal, grass and legume mix, and (ii) a diverse conservation mix with kale, mixed cereals, linseed and legumes. These crop mixtures were intended to provide forage and structural resources for pollinators but were not intended to have agronomic value as livestock feed. Using a replicated block design, we monitored bumblebee and butterfly responses in 27 plots (10 × 50 m) in each farm from 2003 to 2006.
  • 3
    Bumblebees were most abundant, species-rich and diverse in the sown treatments and virtually absent from the grass-based treatments. The diverse conservation mix treatment supported larger and more diverse bumblebee assemblages than the cereal, grass and legume mix treatment. The sown treatments, and the most extensively managed grass-based treatments, had the highest abundance, species richness and diversity of adult butterflies, whereas butterfly larvae were only found in the grass-based treatments.
  • 4
    Bumblebee and butterfly assemblage structure was driven by floral abundance, floral richness, the availability of nectar resources, and sward structure. Only vegetation cover was correlated with butterfly larval abundance.
  • 5
    Synthesis and applications. This study has identified management options in the margins of intensive grasslands which can enhance bumblebee and butterfly biodiversity. Extensification of conventional grass management by stopping fertilization, reducing cutting frequency and not grazing, benefits butterflies. However, to enhance bumblebees requires a more interventionist approach in the form of sowing flower-rich habitat. Both approaches are potentially suitable for adoption in agri-environment schemes in the UK and Europe.