Are you at university and have an interest in farmland habitats, wildlife and entomology? Come and work with the Farmland Ecology team during your degree's placement year.

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Farmland Ecology

Our research into the ecology of species inhabiting farmland started in the late 1960s when the declines in grey partridge were first noticed. This research identified the main factors controlling grey partridge survival and reproduction (insufficient food for chicks, seed in winter and predation) and how the changes in farming were affecting these factors.

John Holland Steve Moreby Niamh McHugh
Prof John Holland
Head of FEU
Steve Moreby
Senior Entomologist
Dr Niamh McHugh
Postdoctoral Scientist
Belinda Bown Chris Wyver Emily Brown
Belinda Bown
Research Assistant
Chris Wyver
Placement Student
Emily Brown
Placement Student

Farmland EcologyMuch of our research has focused on entomology because insects are a crucial part of the farmland food web and respond to a range of factors, which extend from the influence of farming practice and local habitat diversity and structure through to the landscape-scale effects of large-scale heterogeneity as well as global climate changes. Insects also contribute to ecosystem services either directly by for example pollinating crops and wild plants or by acting as service providers. Examples of the latter include contributing to the biological control of crop pests and forming important components of farmland birds, which are regarded as a cultural service.

Our objectives:

  • Conduct high-quality research into farmed ecosystems and the species they support
  • Develop practical management approaches and inform policy
  • Publicise our findings through scientific publications, training, education and advisory services

Our research focuses on the implications of crops, farming system and habitat management approaches at the local and landscape scale. We seek to understand the ecology behind the impact that farming has on wildlife and associated biodiversity and to find solutions. The unit has also conducted long-term entomological monitoring on farmland in Sussex since 1970 and on our farm in Leicestershire since 1992.

We always aim to ensure that the research findings are publicised and utilised by end users. Our key approach is to work alongside growers and land managers so that the outputs of our research support the industry in developing productive, biodiverse landscapes. Many of the options within the current agri-environment schemes are a consequence of our research. We work globally, currently co-ordinating an EU FP7 project, QuESSA, and have worked in India running a Darwin Initiative project. Our research is funded using either core funds or from external grants, often working in partnership with other organisations.

In the UK we work with government, research institutes, universities, industry and other NGOs. Our previous partners include Defra, Natural England, Rothamsted Research, Fera, universities (Imperial College London, Exeter, Reading, Surrey, Sussex and Harper Adams), Tarmac, agrochemical companies, New Forest National Park, Conservation Grade, BTO, RSPB and Natural History Museum.

We are interested in collaborating on bids for EU funding in Horizon 2020. The GWCT is registered with the European Commission as a SME and Not for Profit Organisation.

Research capabilities

  • Experimental design
  • Plot to multiple site extensive field studies
  • Univariate and multivariate statistics
  • Systematic mapping


  • Laboratories
  • Network of collaborating farmers
  • Our own trial sites in Hampshire and Leicestershire
  • Controlled environment room and polytunnels


  • Agriculture: Integrated Pest Management, conservation biocontrol, pesticide application techniques, ecotoxicology
  • Agroecology: Insect spatial dynamics, plant/invertebrate interactions, agri-environment schemes, landscape ecology
  • Botany: Arable, hedgerow, woodland, downland and heathland
  • Entomology: Farmland, heathland and aquatic insects; bird faecal analysis; sampling techniques; long-term monitoring
  • Ornithology: Ecology of farmland birds, surveying, ringing and acoustic monitoring

Current projects

  • QuESSA (Quantification of Ecological Services for Sustainable Agriculture) – EC FP7 Small Collaborative Project (2013-17)
  • AgriBats: Learning about bats on arable farmland in Hampshire and Dorset
  • Chick food, beneficial insects and farming systems
  • Long-term trends in beetle communities on farmland
  • Foraging preferences of Barn Swallows and use of agri-environment scheme habitats

Examples of previous projects

  • Farm4Bio: Farm/landscape scale study to maximising the potential of uncropped land for biodiversity – Defra Sustainable Arable LINK programme (2006-10)
  • Enhancing the relationship between people and pollinators in Eastern India – Darwin Initiative (2012-15)
  • Intraspecific variation in Sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia)
  • Pests and beneficials encyclopaedia for arable and field crops – AHDB/HGCA (2013-14)
  • A comparison of the effect of managed burning and vegetation cutting on biodiversity in the New Forest (2012-13)
  • Developing sustainable, multi-purpose, farmland wildlife crops – Conservation Grade (2009-13)
  • Arable weeds, their associated invertebrates and their manipulation to encourage farm wildlife – Esmée Fairbairn Foundation (2010-11)
  • Re-bugging the System: Determining the role of different predatory groups in biocontrol and the influence of the landscape – RELU (2005-09)
  • SAFFIE (Sustainable Arable Farming for an Improved Environment): Development of mitigation measures for farmland biodiversity including manipulation of herbicide inputs – Defra Sustainable Arable LINK programme (2002-07)
  • Environment Stewardship (ES) options and farmland birds – PhD study with Imperial College London
  • How effective are agri-environment schemes in boosting bumblebee populations? – PhD study with Sussex University

External links and affiliations

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