Beneath the tufted ears of wheat or the stubble-stalks of autumns harvest. Tucked down in the furrows scored by the plough and thriving in the pockets of land reclaimed by the spreading hedgerow.
This is where they reside; the dwellers of the arable margin.
There are some that are familiar to us, like the harvest mouse weaving her round-ball nest around the stems, the brown hare disappearing before your eyes as he crouches in his dugout or the yellowhammer singing “little bit of bread and no cheeeeeese” proudly from his perch on the blackthorn hedge. There are beautiful secrets here too. Rarities to cherish. Nostalgic tales to recall and pass on to others. There is colour in the margins and together we must protect it.
Appearances corn be deceiving...
Just a field of corn? A golden expanse of crop stretching across our landscapes? Look closer. Our crop plants have shared their soil with a rather secretive group of vascular cousins for centuries. Species brave enough to make their home “amongst the plough” have intrigued many in history and been given local names like “Shepherds Comb”, “Devils Claws” and “Old Owl”. They have been both a weed in the crop and a jewel in the crown and many have escaped our attentions altogether; they are our arable plants.
I have grown up within the roots of agriculture and from childhood have developed a deep curiosity and a healthy respect for our land and the farming systems that provide us with the means to grow, to learn and to survive. In recent years our use of the land has seen great changes and many have been too sudden or far-reaching for some species to keep up. The realisation we are left to face is that many of our arable species are now rare and clinging on in small pockets; with a number of them already listed as extinct in the wild. The colour that charms us all as we trail through our farmland is fading fast.
The Colour in the Margins project aims to strengthen the relationship between our arable habitat and the plant and animal communities which are supported by it. Through collaboration we can contribute to real conservation and spread awareness of the importance of arable species and their role in our ecosystem. We will focus on some of the most threatened species such as Corn Buttercup, a species considered a nuisance to farmers in history by ‘tainting’ the harvest with seeds so spiny it has earned them the unfortunate local name of “Devils claws”. We will work with landowners and advisors to fine-tune the management for this striking species on farms in Somerset and will work collaboratively to collect vital data to secure its future in the wider landscape.
I am just a seedling in the early stages of the project as outreach officer so these are incredibly exciting times for me, with the scope of this project promising so much for one of our most cherished and somewhat overlooked landscapes. I hope to raise the profile of our arable dwellers and inspire people to reconnect with a landscape that is rooted deep within our heritage.
Colour in the Margins will be running events across our project areas (see map) so keep an eye on our webpage for details about how to get involved. We will be popping up at all manner of community events so come join us, share your arable stories and get acquainted with some of the UK’s rarest species. Who knows, you may even brush shoulders with a brush-thighed seed-eater.
Keep up to date with our project on Twitter and Facebook (@naturebftb) #colourinthemargins.
Project Outreach Officer