Conservation Evidence strives to be as useful to conservationists as possible. Please take our survey to help the team improve our resource.

Providing evidence to improve practice

Individual study: Rotational and non-rotational set-aside supported a range of plant, bird and invertebrate diversity in England.

Published source details

Firbank L.G., Smart S.M., Crabb J., Critchley C.N.R., Fowbert J.W., Fuller R.J., Gladders P., Green D.B., Henderson I. & Hill M.O. (2003) Agronomic and ecological costs and benefits of set-aside in England. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, 95, 73-85


This study is summarised as evidence for the intervention(s) shown on the right. The icon shows which synopsis it is relevant to.

Provide or retain set-aside areas in farmland Bird Conservation

A replicated, randomised study of 200 farms in England with set-aside (Firbank et al. 2003) found that an increase in bird numbers was reported by 47% of farmers with rotational set-aside and 69% of farmers with non-rotational set-aside. Bird density in rotational set-aside was nine times, and in non-rotational sown grassland set-aside seven times, that in crops. Management of set-aside had minimal effect on bird abundance. Breeding bird territories were mapped on 63-92 farms (1996-1997). More intensive surveys were undertaken for habitat use by birds on 11 farms (1996-1997).

Provide or retain set-aside areas in farmland Farmland Conservation

A replicated, randomized site comparison study of 200 farms in England with set-aside (Firbank et al. 2003) found that set-aside supported a range of biodiversity. Rotational set-aside supported 12 plant species/site and one nationally rare species (corn marigold Chrysanthemum segetum). On non-rotational set-aside, plant species richness and cover of annuals was greater on naturally regenerated than sown grass sites (27 vs 20 species/site); cover by perennials showed the opposite trend. Older naturally regenerated sites had more perennial species, but plant communities did not appear to be developing into those considered of conservation value. Twenty percent of farmers reported an increase in wildflowers, and 47% reported an increase in bird numbers on rotational set-aside. Fifty-one percent of farmers reported an increase in wildflowers and 69% an increase in bird numbers on non-rotational set-aside.  Bird density in set-aside was nine times higher than in crops for rotational set-aside and seven times higher for non-rotational sown grassland set-aside. Management of set-aside had minimal effect on bird abundance. Significantly more invertebrates were found in set-aside than in the adjacent crop. Vegetation was assessed on 100 rotational (spring 1996-1997) and 100 non-rotational set-aside sites (summer 1996-1997). Breeding bird territories were mapped on 63-92 farms (1996-1997).  More intensive surveys were undertaken for: vegetation (8+ per year) on six farms, habitat use by birds and invertebrates (pitfall trapping, May-June) on 11 farms (1996-1997). Pest data are not presented here.