Saving England's most threatened species from extinction

Colour in the Margins

Encouraging arable wildlife in our landscapes

Farmland birds have declined by
since 1970
Arable plants are the
declining suite of plants in the UK
of England is farmland

What is the habitat for the Colour in the Margins project?

The colourful hues of cornfield flowers were once a familiar part of our arable landscape. Sadly they are also the fastest declining suite of plants in the UK. Fascinating, sometimes rare, and often overlooked - they are frequently threatened by the arable farming on which they depend. This has a knock-on effect for other wildlife, including ground beetles, bats and birds.

Why is this habitat at risk?

Arable habitats have been affected by modern farming practices such as the increased use of herbicides and fertilisers, changes from spring to autumn growing, and increased competition from modern crop varieties. These have reduced the chances that cornfield flowers have to spread and grow.

How we’ll colour-in the margins

This Back from the Brink project, led by Plantlife, will focus on 13 species; 10 plants, and three ground beetles. Conservation work for these will have benefits for many other threatened species, particularly 14 birds, two bryophytes, eight mammals, three insects and eight other arable plants. We will develop ways to reintroduce and manage for these species, and will bring them back to suitable sites. We will work with farmers and landowners to encourage them to take up these techniques.

We aim to capture community recollections of animals and plants of the arable landscape, arrange farm visits, and provide training workshops, advice and guidance for farmers. We will introduce people to the habitats by a programme of activities and volunteering.

What we’re aiming for

By the end of the project, we aim to have successfully reintroduced arable species at key sites and improved the way people manage arable habitats. We will have reconnected people with the farmed environment, encouraging them to appreciate the importance of arable wildlife, both for its cultural value, and also for its part in a larger ecosystem.

Call for volunteers

Colour in the Margins are looking for volunteers to help us to survey for arable plants on farmland within our six project areas: Cornwall & Devon, Somerset, Wessex, Breckland, Kent and Yorkshire. These surveys will help to build on our records by mapping species distribution, highlighting patterns of decline and identifying sites in need of focused conservation management. Our primary focus for botanical surveys will be our ten rare arable plant species - Red Hemp-nettle, Corn Buttercup, Spreading Hedge-parsley and others.

We will be supporting volunteers at every botanical skill level with training workshops and going out with project staff to learn hands-on.

To register your interest in recording arable plants as part of the Colour in the Margins project or to find out more about volunteering with us please contact our Outreach Officer at

How to get involved

Can you help us by getting involved with surveys, or with management for arable habitats? Find out more at our talks, walks and events.

You can get the latest news, and find out about upcoming events, by following the links below.

Project timeline

Winter 2019 - 2020

Finalising the reports for this summer’s surveys and setting up the calendar for the 2020 events programme. Completion of works at Ranscombe Reserve, including an inside space and toilets. Reintroductions of Red-Hemp nettle will happen in the Cotswolds.

February 2020

Launch of the Arable Seed Swap allotment project to engage people with arable plant species on their own allotments by growing and learning about arable species. Art workshops will also be held around England in Easter to inspire people to connect to the arable habits.

Spring 2020

Reintroductions of Spreading Hedge-parsley will take place at sites in Somerset as well as reintroductions of Small-flowered catchfly in Devon.

Summer 2020

Final summer of surveys to be completed to finalise the landowner and farmer with the help of volunteers in Cornwall, Devon, the North Downs, Somerset and Wessex. The final arable plant identification and management workshops will take place for land owners and farmers.

Autumn 2020

Celebration events for volunteers to be held around the England to share the knowledge gained from the project and celebrate the project’s amazing achievements with volunteers, members of the public and conservation organisations.

Project contact

Zoe, Outreach Officer:


Take a closer look at the wildlife in our arable landscapes using this guide.


Bring these wonderful drawings to life with colour!


Resources for schools, farms, parents and carers, to engage children with arable habitat.

Learning and Enquiry Packs


Resources for Colleges and Universities


Crib Sheets - Identification tables for groups of closely related plants.

Species Information Sheets - Introductory Guides for Colour in the Margins Species

Habitat Management Guides - Information for Farmers and Land Managers

Seed Conservation and Sowing - How to Collect, Store and Sow Seeds


Survey Forms and Instructions - How to Survey for Arable Plants

We need your Arable Stories!

Have you had a close encounter with boxing hares or been spellbound by the song of the skylark on a recent farmland walk? Do you have fond memories of making corn dollies or helping at harvest time? Is there an old wives tale you live by today that harks back to arable roots?

Recollections past or present, we would love to hear from you!

We invite you to share with us your stories which could be anything from your encounters with farmland wildlife to your memories on an arable farm.

Please get in touch with us to find out more about this project and how you can get involved. Please send your arable stories, photos or videos to

Arable Memories - where is your favourite field or footpath?

Download our postcard, fill it in and send it to the same email address shown above.

Latest news

Get Involved

Bringing them Back From The Brink

We are working with some of the most endangered species in England. With your help we can do even more to save them.

Project lead

Delivery partners