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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Establish wild flower areas on farmland Terrestrial Mammal Conservation

Key messages

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  • Four studies evaluated the effects of establishing wild flower areas on farmland on small mammals. Two studies were in Switzerland, one in the UK and one in Germany.



  • Abundance (4 studies): Three of four site comparison studies (including three replicated studies), in Switzerland, the UK and Germany, found that sown wildflower areas contained more wood mice, small mammals and common hamsters compared to grass and clover set-aside, grasslands, crop and uncultivated margins, agricultural areas and crop fields.


Supporting evidence from individual studies


A site comparison study in 1996–1997 on two arable farms in southern UK (Tattersall et al. 1999) found that set-aside comprising a species-rich mix of grasses and native forbs was used more by wood mice Apodemus sylvaticus relative to availability, than was a simple grass and clover set-aside. Wood mice used species-rich set-aside proportionally to its availability within home ranges. Wood mice used grass/clover set-aside in lower proportion than its availability in home ranges. Data were presented as preference indices. Vegetation in the grass and forb set-aside was more species-rich than that in the grass and clover set-aside, though it was shorter and less dense. Grass and forb set-aside was established in 10-m strips adjacent to crops and hedgerows at one site. Grass and clover set-aside was established on 20-m margins and a 5-ha block at the second site. Nine wood mice were radio-tracked over three nights at each farm, in May–July of 1996 and 1997.


A replicated, site comparison study in 2003 on a farmed plain in Switzerland (Aschwanden et al. 2007) found that sown wildflower strips contained more small mammals than did conventionally farmed grasslands, autumn-sown wheat fields and uncultivated herbaceous field margins. These comparisons were not tested for statistical significance. Small mammal densities varied greatly between sampling periods but peak densities were estimated at 1,047/ha in wildflower strips, 86/ha in farmed grasslands, 568/ha in wheat crops and 836/ha in herbaceous strips. Two small mammal species were caught in wildflower strips, with two each also in grassland and wheat and six in herbaceous margins. Wildflower strips (15 × 185 m) were sown with native species on fallow arable land. Grasslands (average 0.88 ha) were cut ≥5 times, each April–October and were fertilized. Autumn-sown wheat fields (average 1.3 ha) were harvested at the end of July. Herbaceous strips (5 × 320 m) comprised a range of herbaceous plant species along field margins. Small mammals were live-trapped on three fields of each treatment during 60-hour trapping sessions in March, May and July 2003. Densities were estimated using a capture-recapture method.


A replicated, site comparison study in 2005 in four agricultural areas in Switzerland (Arlettaz et al. 2010) found that in most cases, following restoration, wildflower areas did not host more small mammal than nearby agricultural areas. In five of nine comparisons (between restored wildflower areas and wheat, maize and tobacco, over three sample seasons), there was no significant difference in the average abundance of small mammals in wildflower areas (458–1,285 animals/ha) and arable fields (34–682 animals/ha). In four of nine comparisons, small mammal abundance was significantly higher in restored wildflower areas (458–1,285 animals/ha) than in nearby arable fields (0–12 animals/ha). In four sites, live traps were placed in restored wildflower areas, wheat fields, maize fields, and tobacco fields. In each area, in May, July, and September 2005, three traps were placed every 5 m along two parallel 45-m-long transects, giving a total of 60 traps/area. Traps were operated over three nights and days at each area. Population sizes were estimated by mark-recapture techniques based on fur clipping of captured animals.


A replicated, site comparison study in 2013 on 28 fields in a mainly arable agricultural area in Bavaria, Germany (Fischer & Wagner 2016) found that fields sown with wild flowers under an agri-environment scheme contained more common hamsters Cricetus cricetus than did crop fields. Hamster burrow density was higher in wildflower fields (3.2 hamster burrows/ha) than in crop fields (0.3 hamster burrows/ha). Fourteen wildflower fields were paired with similarly sized fields of maize, barley, oilseed rape, wheat or sugar beet. The study area measured approximately 50 × 20 km. Paired field were ≥200 m apart and wildflower fields were 440–21,500 m apart. Most wildflower fields were established on less-favoured arable land. They were sown, between 2008 and 2010, with annual and perennial wild and cultivated plants, and were unmanaged thereafter. Burrows, in which hamsters had overwintered and reopened the entrance on emergence in spring, were mapped in May–June 2013.

Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Littlewood, N.A., Rocha, R., Smith, R.K., Martin, P.A., Lockhart, S.L., Schoonover, R.F., Wilman, E., Bladon, A.J., Sainsbury, K.A., Pimm S. and Sutherland, W.J. (2020) Terrestrial Mammal Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for terrestrial mammals excluding bats and primates. Synopses of Conservation Evidence Series. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.