Sowing and Management of Multi-species Leys to Encourage Pollinators

IOTA Results of Organic Research: Technical Leaflet 10

Resource explained

With 35% of global food production being dependent on pollinators, we need to do all we can to encourage them on farms. This leaflet provides practical tips on ways in which you can improve leys through combining different forage species. It is based on research carried out for the Defra-funded Legume LINK (LegLink) project, which showed the potential of improving forage production through mixing different species. Key points relevant to pollinators have been taken from the LegLink project and used as a basis for some recommended actions that you can apply in the field. These are focussed on helping you identify and select beneficial species and manage multi-species leys. Management recommendations for Countryside Stewardship scheme grant options relating to sowing and managing multi-species leys to help benefit pollinators are clearly described. The options covered are: Organic Multi-species Ley Option OP4, Nectar Flower Mix AB1 and Autumn sown Bumblebird mix AB16.

Findings & recommendations

  • Maintaining pollinator populations on your farm is critically important in relation to food production and wildlife diversity.
  • Farmers have historically tended to rely on simple white or red clover leys to produce forage and build in fertility. The LegLink project showed how pollinators (and soil fertility) can benefit from mixing forage species and improving forage production.
  • The All-species mix (of 14 legumes and grasses) developed in the LegLink project was shown to have a significant benefit for pollinators.
  •  When selecting forage species it is important to focus on increasing the diversity of flowers, ensure continuous flowering from April until August, and consider the farm’s soil type and the fertility building and forage yield requirements of the farm leys.
  • While selecting suitable plant species is important, the way in which the leys are managed is also crucial.
  • The Countryside Stewardship scheme specifies several options that are relevant to organic and conventional land regarding sowing and managing multi-species leys to help benefit pollinators. One of the key options described is based on the results of the LegLink project.



Summary provided by:

Janie Caldbeck

Associated Agricology Partner Organisation(s):

Related articles

Fertility building leys

Guidance on legume species characteristics and management to help you formulate your own seed mixtures, based on Legume LINK research.

Using legume-based mixtures to enhance the nitrogen use efficiency and economic viability of cropping systems 

The Legume LINK final report, with pointers to help you improve the efficiency of your leys, benefiting crop production and pollinators.

Manifold green manures – Part I: Sainfoin and birdsfoot trefoil

An article outlining properties of two species that could be considered for fertility-building mixes, trialed in the Legume LINK project.

Manifold green manures Part 2: Alsike and crimson clovers

Details on alsike and crimson clover that will help assess suitability for inclusion in fertility-building mixes, as defined in Legume LINK.

Manifold green manures Part 3: Black medic and lucerne

Two lesser-used legume species with properties that you can make use of in fodder, green manure or hay crops, as highlighted in Legume LINK.

Manifold green manures – Part 4: Large birdsfoot trefoil, meadow pea and white clover

An article outlining properties of three species that could be considered for fertility-building mixes, trialed in the Legume LINK project.

Diverse legume leys: pollinator benefits

The important role of legumes as a food resource for pollinators and species that can help provide the forage reserves throughout the year. 

Diverse / Herbal sward mixtures

Herbal leys with a diverse range of species can help resolve soil fertility problems, making forage legume mixtures hard to resist.

The Herbal Ley Farming System

A farmer's guide to herbal leys... focusing on the many benefits of this low ​input farming system, as well as advice on sowing and growing.

Sort out your soil

This Cotswold Seeds / Garden Organic publication provides detailed, practical information to help you select and use green manure crops.

GWCT pollinators research

Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust information on managing flower-rich habitats on your farm with links to some important research. 

Effects of cutting regime, surroundings & field age on floral resources for pollinators in hay fields

Research findings providing insights into management of hay fields that may help increase plant and insect diversity.
To top