Arable weeds of Milham Ford Nature Park
'Arable weeds' are those that grow among annual crops such as potatoes, turnips, oil-seed rape, barley, wheat, oats, maize, rye, flax etc.
Fifty years ago they were a common sight on arable land but due to the extensive use of herbicides (weedkillers) and the loss of half the country's hedgerows during that same period, very few of them now survive and some are already officially extinct. English Nature has expressed concern that genetically modified crops will exacerbate this decline, since the cultivation of such crops requires large doses of herbicides to wipe out other plants.
Furthermore, as Paul Brown pointed out in an article in The Guardian* way back in 2003, "The survival of these "weed" plants is also vital to the insect and bird life that feed on them. It has been estimated that 80% of Britain's butterflies need these arable weeds to survive. Many farmland birds such as partridges are suffering from a scarcity of insects with which to feed their young.
*Weeds we can't afford to lose, The Guardian, 8 July 2003
In July 2009 a voluntary agreement was concluded between the agricultural industry and the government, whereby the industry would work with wildlife agencies to encourage farmers to help protect farmland animals, birds and plants typical of the local landscape. The Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) stated at that time that this "enabled the Government to avoid having to regulate to recapture the environmental benefits of set-aside, which was abolished last year". One of the key commitments of the coalition Government following its election in May 2010 was the publication of a White Paper on the Natural Environment.
Since then the protection and enhancement of biodiversity has become an increasingly newsworthy subject. However, the marked decline in the number of pollinators and of other species (apart from human beings, of course) is of serious concern.
Above: Common Mallow (Malva sylvestris)
Flowers from July to August. It has been used to treat inflammation and disorders of the respiratory, digestive or urinary system.