1. Agricultural intensification and expansion are regarded as major causes of worldwide declines in biodiversity during the last century. Agri-environment schemes (AES) have been introduced in many countries as an attempt to counteract the negative effects of intensive agriculture by providing financial incentives for farmers to adopt environmentally-sensitive agricultural practices.
2. We surveyed 18 pairs of AES and conventionally-managed farms in central Scotland (United Kingdom) to evaluate the effects of specific AES management prescriptions (field margins, hedgerows, species-rich grasslands and water margins) on farmland moths. We also measured the influence of the surrounding landscape on moth populations at three spatial scales (250 m, 500 m and 1 km radii from each trapping site) to assess at which scale management was most important for the conservation of farmland moths.
3. In general, percentage cover of rough grassland and scrub within 250 m of the trapping site was the most important landscape predictor for both micro- and macromoth abundance and macromoth species richness, although negative effects of urbanization were found at wider scales (within 1 km), particularly for macromoth species richness.
4. The abundance and species richness of micromoths was significantly higher within field margins and species-rich grasslands under AES management in comparison to their conventional counterparts, whereas AES water margins increased micromoth abundance, but not species richness. AES species-rich grasslands and water margins were associated with an increased macromoth abundance and species richness, and macromoths considered ‘widespread but rapidly declining’ also gained some benefits from these two AES prescriptions. In contrast, hedgerows under AES management enhanced neither micromoth nor macromoth populations.
5.Synthesis and applications. Our findings indicate that increasing the percentage cover of semi-natural environment at a local scale (e.g. within 250 m) benefits both micro- and macromoth populations, and that the implementation of simple AES management prescriptions applied to relatively small areas can increase the species richness and abundance of moth populations in agricultural environments.