Wild flowers of wheatfields
Wild plants that were once widespread amongst farm crops are now extremely rare and some species, including interrupted brome (Bromus interruptus), have become extinct in the wild. Numbers of other plants such as field buttercup (Ranunculus arvensis) and cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) have dropped more quickly than any other species in the British flora.
This loss of wild flowers is linked to a revolution in farming practices during the last few decades. Horses have been replaced by machinery, crop rotations have changed, many cereals are now sown in the autumn rather than in spring, new crop varieties and fertilisers have increased yields dramatically and herbicides and pesticides have created cleaner, more sterile environments. These changes caused huge improvements in crop production efficiency, but at the expense of the plants and animals that rely on the agricultural environment for their existence.
Many farmers and conservationists are now working towards a balance between controlling weeds to minimise crop losses, and maintaining ecological biodiversity. One way of doing this is to have field margins that are managed for wildlife and so treated with fewer chemicals than the rest of the field. As well as encouraging wild flowers, these areas also provide nesting sites for birds, and food and shelter for butterflies, beetles, grasshoppers and other insects.
This move towards sustainable agriculture will help to meet the demand for food, while maintaining a landscape that future generations can enjoy.
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