Magic Margins

Euan at Potatoes In Practice 1

Euan Caldwell, Head of Farms, James Hutton Institute

Next week we will be holding a Technical Day for farmers in partnership with one of our leading Scottish LEAF Innovation Centres, The James Hutton Institute. The event includes guided tours and indoor displays covering a diverse range of Integrated Farm Management topics such as cover crops, Integrated Pest Management, precision farming and sustainable cropping.  Ahead of the event, Euan Caldwell, Head of Farms at JHI, tells us more about one of the areas being featured – ‘magic margins.’

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The Magic of Margins

Over the last year, we have been busy sowing some new field margins at Mylnefield and Balruddery Farms. Like our existing buffer strips (habitat margins next to water courses), beetle banks and field margins, these new field margins are part of what are now termed Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs). All arable farms in Scotland have to commit at least 5% of their total arable area to EFA. Like many LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) Innovation Centres and  Demonstration Farms, we only had to make small adjustments to the habitat and wildlife corridors we had already created around our farms, to meet our new obligations.

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Blair McKenzie’s Tramline Run-off Experiment

Some of our field margins have been established in what could look like potato drills. These are innovative field margins described by some of our visiting farmers as ‘magic margins’. The initial inspiration for developing our ‘magic margins’ came about through our involvement in Blair McKenzie’s Tramline Run-off Experiment which the James Hutton Institute and others undertook in 2011-12 at Balruddery Farm.

It was an amazing project that opened my eyes to how a relatively shallow slope could generate significant water run-off (and nutrient loss) and to see how fragile and susceptible to erosion our sandy loam soils really were.

Well established Magic Margins


LEAF’s IFM – working to deliver more sustainable food and farming

We have used the same drills and tied ridges to effectively create a barrier at the bottom of a sloping field. There is also no reason that this same effective field margin couldn’t be used as a beetle bank mid-way down a field and again at the bottom to further reduce the momentum of run-off and erosion. The mini dams the Tied Ridger has created have captured the water at the point at which it has reached the margin, thereby preventing it from running to the bottom of the slope and then pooling at the single lowest point in the field. Once properly established, they look like every other EFA field margins but with hidden added value.

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Magic Margins are an innovative example of IFM working in practice

Other advantages we have seen is that the surface area of this field margin is greater than conventional field margins which helps promote the rate of evaporation. The margins have also been sown with wild grass and bird seed mixes providing valuable wildlife habitat (as part of our Ecological Focus Area). They also help persuade our farm and science staff that driving on our field margins would be a very unforgiving mistake and, in turn, this helps me protect our year round obligation to our Ecological Focus Areas.

In summary, our Magic Margins are an innovative example of IFM working in practice helping to deliver economic, environmental and social benefits to the farm.

The JHI and LEAF Technical Day on the 9th June is being held as part of LEAF’s 25th Anniversary.  It will provide a taster of some of the IFM research being carried out at JHI and feature a range of practical examples of how they can work on farmer’s own businesses. Click here for more details and to book. To join in the conversation before, during and after the event @JamesHuttonInst #LEAFTechDay. We look forward to seeing you!

One response to “Magic Margins

  1. Pingback: Delivering more sustainable farming through knowledge generation and exchange | LEAF's blog

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