Arable land (all cultivated land and bare fallow) is the most abundant habitat in Wiltshire and has increased in extent, as elsewhere, after World War II with the ploughing up of large areas of former downland. Arable farmland occupies over 160,000ha covering 50% of the county and has been practised on the chalk lands to the south, central and eastern part of Wiltshire for over 3000 years, shaping the landscape with large open fields with few trees. The north and west of the county are over oolite, cornbrash, clays and greensand where the farmland supports a diverse flora and fauna. The total area of arable land had remained fairly constant.
Wiltshire’s arable land is particularly biologically diverse. It is especially important for farmland birds including the Stone Curlew, Corn Bunting and Tree Sparrow. There is also a growing interest in the survival of the declining arable weed flora whose notable species include Corn Cockle, Shepherd’s Needle and Pheasant’s Eye. Other declining species include Corn Buttercup, Corn Gromwell, and Corn Marigold, although the various species of Poppy continue to evoke the most public interest.
The management of arable farmland has a direct impact on other habitats such as run-off can have a negative effect on watercourses. Wildlife will use farmland in conjunction with other habitats including water bodies, woodland and grassland.
Intensified methods of production and use of chemicals has greatly reduced the biodiversity value of large areas of arable land, and despite the introduction of schemes to promote biodiversity on farmland and the enthusiastic interest of a growing number of farmers, there continues to be concern over the decline of many species of farmland birds such as the Grey Partridge and the Tree Sparrow.