Management and Performance of AB14 Harvested Low Input Cereal Plots 

This project, part of a Natural England Environmental Stewardship Monitoring & Evaluation Framework, aimed to develop an understanding of what AB14 plots are typically delivering in terms of outcomes for the natural environment (i.e. what bird, insect and plant species are present within plots), and how agreement holders/land managers are managing their AB14 harvested low input cereal crops. This will help determine how valuable AB14 plots are to the conservation scarce arable plants, invertebrates and farmland birds, and AB14 agronomy best practice. 

The total area of land managed as AB14 harvested low input cereal is relatively low compared to other more popular options. In addition, the total area of AB14 and equivalent options in the Environmental Stewardship Scheme has fallen from 13,014 ha in 2015 to 12,486 ha in 2020. Understanding the reasons behind these fluctuations in AB14 uptake is key to boosting the area of reduced input options such as AB14 harvested low input cereal in future schemes.  

A key element of this project was therefore understanding farmer attitudes towards the AB14 option. Working alongside the British Trust for Ornithology and the RSPB, CCRI’s contribution focused on this element, incorporating survey design, as well as preparing for, undertaking and analysing 80 interviews, that provided valuable data that fed into the final report. The report summarises the environmental benefits of AB14 relative to the cropping that would have been present without the option and inferring the extent to which the aims of AB14 have been met.  Further, it indicates the potential for further benefits of AB14 with enhanced uptake across suitable farming systems in England. Recommendations considered the value of future promotion of AB14 and could subsequently inform comparisons with other interventions by Natural England. 

The CCRI team, led by Jane Mills, included Dr Hannah Chiswell, Dr Dilshaad Bundhoo, Nick Lewis, Lucy Barkley and Bee Ray-Smallcalder.

CCRI Ref: 2021-071