The effects of seed mix and management on the abundance of desirable and pernicious unsown species in arable buffer strip communities


D B Westbury, Department of Agriculture, Centre for Agri-Environmental Research, The University of Reading, Earley Gate, Reading RG6 6AR, UK. Tel: (+44) 118 378 6026; Fax: (+44) 118 378 6067; E-mail:


Buffer strips are refuges for a variety of plants providing resources, such as pollen, nectar and seeds, for higher trophic levels, including invertebrates, mammals and birds. Margins can also harbour plant species that are potentially injurious to the adjacent arable crop (undesirable species). Sowing perennial species in non-cropped buffer strips can reduce weed incidence, but limits the abundance of annuals with the potential to support wider biodiversity (desirable species). We investigated the responses of unsown plant species present in buffer strips established with three different seed mixes managed annually with three contrasting management regimes (cutting, sward scarification and selective graminicide). Sward scarification had the strongest influence on the unsown desirable (e.g. Sonchus spp.) and unsown pernicious (e.g. Elytrigia repens) species, and was generally associated with higher cover values of these species. However, abundances of several desirable weed species, in particular Poa annua, were not promoted by scarification. The treatments of cutting and graminicide tended to have negative impacts on the unsown species, except for Cirsium vulgare, which increased with graminicide application. Differences in unsown species cover between seed mixes were minimal, although the grass-only mix was more susceptible to establishment by C. vulgare and Galium aparine than the two grass and forb mixes. Annual scarification can enable desirable annuals and sown perennials to co-exist, however, this practice can also promote pernicious species, and so is unlikely to be widely adopted as a management tool in its current form.