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Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs) of GM Herbicide Tolerant Crops

Map showing FSE sites 2000 - 2002

The group conducts impartial and independent assessment of GM crops by research financed through public funding. The Farm Scale Evaluations (FSE) of GM herbicide tolerant (GMHT) crops was commissioned by government and, including follow-up studies on GM persistence, ran from 1999 to 2006. It arose out of general concerns that the intensification of farming had reduced arable biodiversity to the point where species were disappearing from the UK and essential functions of the habitat were impaired. Despite potential benefits of GM cropping with herbicide tolerant varieties, concerns were raised that GMHT cropping would lead to even further impairment of arable systems. The FSE was commissioned to investigate the potential effects of this type of biotechnology.

The FSE began in 1999 with experimental crops used to refine protocols and confirm statistical power calculations. The main phase of experimentation then followed in which spring crops of beet, maize and spring oilseed rape were sown in 2000, 2001 and 2002 and winter oilseed rape sown in the late summer or autumn of those years, to be studied from sowing to harvest in late summer of the following year. The final measurements on the GM crops themselves were completed in summer 2003 and in total included more than 250 fields. Aspects of biodiversity, notably of the seedbank, in each experimental field were followed for a further two years, ending with measurements in summer 2005.  Most of the basic results and analysis for the period 1999 to 2004 have now been published in refereed journals (see list below). This massive and unique database continues to be investigated.

The FSE's high replication and geographical coverage enabled us to quantify arable food webs for the first time. The primary production in the weeds was typically 1% or less of the total for the crops and weeds, while the mass of the invertebrate food web was 0.1% of the total. It is hypothesised that such small amounts of matter could readily be increased without any reduction in yield, thereby enhancing diversity and imparting greater resilience to essential functions.

The FSE opened debate on matters that were much more central to the ecology of production systems than simply whether GM cropping should be introduced. It became clear that standards and criteria were needed to define the state of cropped habitats in order that any major change in technology can be assessed before it is introduced. The most important factor to be addressed is the biodiversity that must be maintained in each field to ensure resilience in essential functions such as decomposition, nutrient transformations, pollination, and pest control. SCRI’s research on these topics continues through funding from the Scottish Government and from a BBSRC project held jointly with Rothamsted Research.

Cross pollination and persistence of seed over time at FSE sites were examined through separate research contracts let by Defra.

For further information on the FSE and SCRI’s contribution, contact Cathy Hawes or Geoff Squire. The Defra website has more background and ancillary information on its Genetic Modification (GM) page.

Continuing review and analysis, 2005-2009

Squire, G.R., Hawes, C., Begg, G.S., Young, M.W. 2009. Cumulative impact of GM herbicide-tolerant cropping on arable plants assessed through species-based and functional taxonomies. Environmental Science and Pollution Research 16(1), 85-94. Published online 2 December 2008 (doi: 10.1007/s11356-008-0072-6).

Hawes, C., Haughton, A.J., Bohan, D.A., Squire, G.R. 2009. Functional approaches for assessing plant and invertebrate abundance patterns in arable systems. Basic and Applied Ecology 10(1), 34-47(doi:10.1016/j.baae.2007.11.007).

Bohan, D.A., Hawes, C., Haughton, A.J., Denholm, I., Champion, G.T., Perry, J.N., Clark, S.J. 2007.  Statistical models to evaluate invertebrate–plant trophic interactions in arable systems. Bulletin of Entomological Research 97, 265-280.

Squire, G.R., Hawes, C., Bohan, D.A., Brooks, D.R., Champion, G.T., Firbank, L.G., Haughton, A.J., Heard, M.S., May, M.J., Perry, J.N., Young, M.W. 2005.  Biodiversity effects of the management associated with GM cropping systems in the UK. Defra, London.

Brooks, D.R., Clark, S.J., Perry, J.P., Bohan, D.A., Champion G.T., Firbank, L.G., Haughton A.J., Hawes, C., Heard, M.S., Woiwod, I.P. 2005. Invertebrate biodiversity in maize following the withdrawal of triazine herbicides Prococeedings of the Royal Society London B  272, 1497 - 1502.

Firbank, L.G., Rothery, P., May, M.J., Clark, S.J., Scott, R.J., Stuart, R.C., Boffey, C.W.H., Brooks, D.R., Champion, G.T., Haughton, A.J., Hawes, C., Heard, M.S., Dewar, A.M., Perry, J.N., Squire, G.R. 2005. Effects of genetically modified herbicide tolerant cropping systems on weed seedbanks in two years of following crops. Biology Letters.

Perry, J.N., Firbank, L.G., Champion, G.T., Clark, S.J., Heard, M.S., May, M.J., Hawes, C., Squire, G.R., Rothery, P., Woiwod, I.P., Pidgeon, J.D. 2004. Ban on triazine herbicides likely to reduce but not negate relative benefits of GMHT maize cropping. Nature 428, 313-316.

Background and experimental design of the FSE

Squire, G.R., Brooks, D.R., Bohan, D.A., Champion, G.T., Daniels, R.E., Haughton, A.J., Hawes, C., Heard, M.S., Hill, M.O., May, M.J., Osborne, J.L., Perry, J.N., Roy, D.B., Woiwod, I.P., Firbank, L.G. 2003. On the rationale and interpretation of the farm-scale evaluations of genetically-modified herbicide-tolerant crops. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 358, 1779-1800.

Perry, J.N., Rothery, P., Clark, S.J., Heard, M.S., Hawes, C. 2003.  Design, analysis and statistical power of the Farm-Scale Evaluations of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops. Journal of Applied Ecology 40, 17-31.

Firbank, L.G., Heard, M.S., Woiwod, I.P., Hawes, C., Haughton, A.J., Champion, G.T., Scott, R.J., Hill, M.O., Dewar, A.M., Squire, G.R., May, M.J., Brooks, D.R., Bohan, D.A., Daniels, R.E., Osborne, J.L., Roy, D.B., Black,  H.I.J., Rothery, P., Perry, J.N. 2003. An introduction to the Farm Scale evaluations of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops. Journal of Applied Ecology 40, 2-16.

Firbank, L.G., Dewar, A.M., Hill, M.O., May, M.J., Perry, J.N., Rothery, P., Squire, G. and Woiwod, I.P. 1999. Farm scale evaluation of GM crops explained. Nature scientific correspondence 339, 727-728.

Results for GM winter oilseed rape (one year later than the spring crops)

Bohan, D.A., Boffey, C.W.H., Brooks, D.R., Clark, S.J., Dewar, A.M., Firbank, L.G., Haughton, A.J., Hawes, C., Heard, M.S., May, M.J., Osborne, J.L., Perry, J.N., Rothery, P., Roy, D.B., Scott, R.J., Squire, G.R., Woiwod, I.P., Champion, G.T. 2005. Effects on weed and invertebrate abundance and diversity of herbicide management in genetically modified herbicide-tolerant winter-sown oilseed rape. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B 272, 463-474.

Data and analysis for spring-sown crops

Champion, G.T., May, M.J., Bennett, S., Brooks, D.R., Clark, S.J., Daniels, R.E., Firbank, L.G.,  Haughton, A.J., Hawes, C., Heard, M.S., Perry, J.N., Randle, Z., Rossall, M., Rothery, P., Skellern, M.P., Scott, R.J., Squire, G.R., Thomas, M.R. 2005. Crop management and agronomic context of the Farm Scale Evaluations of genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 358 (1439), 1801-1818.

Firbank, L.G., Perry, J.N., Squire, G.R., Bohan, D.A., Brooks, D.R., Champion, G.T., Clark, S.J., Daniels, R.E., Dewar, A.M., Haughton, A.J., Hawes, C., Heard, M.S., Hill, M.O., May, M.J., Osborne, J.L., Rothery, P., Roy, D.B., Scott, R.J. and Woiwod, I.P. 2003. The implications of spring-sown genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops for farmland biodiversity: A commentary on the Farm Scale Evaluations of Spring Sown Crops. ISBN 0-85521-036-2.

Hawes, C., Haughton, A.J., Osborne, J.L., Roy, D.B., Clark, S.J., Perry, J.N., Rothery, P., Bohan, D.A., Brooks, D.R., Champion, G.T., Dewar, A.M., Heard, M.S., Woiwod, I.P., Daniels, R.E., Young, M.W., Parish, A.M., Scott, R.J., Firbank, L.G., Squire, G.R. 2003.  Responses of plant and invertebrate trophic groups to contrasting herbicide regimes in the Farm Scale Evaluations of genetically-modified herbicide-tolerant crops. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 358 (1439), 1899-1913.

Heard, M.S., Hawes, C., Champion, G.T., Clark, S.J., Firbank, L.G., Haughton, A.J., Parish, A.M., Perry, J.N., Rothery, P., Scott, R.J., Skellern, M.P., Squire, G.R., Hill, M.O. 2003. Non-crop plants in fields with contrasting conventional and genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops. 1 Main effects of treatments. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 358 (1439), 1819-1832.

Heard, M.S., Hawes, C., Champion, G.T., Clark, S.J., Firbank, L.G., Haughton, A.J., Parish, A.M., Perry, J.N., Rothery, P., Roy, D.B., Scott, R.J., Skellern, M.P., Squire, G.R., Hill, M.O. 2003. Non-crop plants in fields with contrasting conventional and genetically modified herbicide-tolerant crops II Species abundance and seasonal dynamics.  Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London B 358 (1439), 1833-1846.

Background  and personal view

Squire, G.R. 2004. Some personal remarks on the Farm Scale Evaluations of GMHT crops. SCRI Annual Report 2002/03, 83-89.