8. CONCLUSION

Set-aside has certainly altered the soil nutrient status of the fields. Previous studies had only concentrated on the mineral nitrogen content of set-aside soils, and more importantly changes in the nitrate levels. This study has revealed that other nutrients essential to plant growth have changed in five years of set-aside. This may be beneficial to the future crops on set-aside, especially where phosphates, ammonium and potassium for example have increased significantly. Both wheat and barley utilise  a lot of phosphates in early growth (Russell, 1961).

Natural regeneration may produce greater species richness, but many problem weeds are associated with the sward. Sown swards help to reduce the spread of broad-leaved weeds, and are still relatively rich in species.

This study has successfully investigated the vegetation and soil characteristics of set-aside in Essex. However, a greater data set would allow more conclusive statistical testing, which may reveal that more of the hypotheses could be accepted.

To produce more significant results, future research should concentrate on a selection of species, such as just the problem weeds, and a few grass species, spread over more fields. However, non-rotational set-aside is not as popular as rotational set-aside, and the area of land set-aside has been reduced to just 5%, so it may prove to be difficult to do such a survey in a small area. Surveys of farms spread over larger geographic areas are complicated by larger variations in the climate and soil type. However, set-aside still provides an excellent opportunity to investigate succession and evolution of vegetation and soils on previously arable land.

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