EE Library

CEE Evidence Syntheses

The multifunctional roles of vegetated strips around and within agricultural fields



Agriculture can have substantial negative impacts on the environment. The establishment and management of vegetated strips adjacent to farmed fields (including various field margins, buffer strips and hedgerows) are commonly advocated mitigation measures for these negative environmental impacts. However, it may be difficult to obtain reliable evidence on the effects of implementation and management of vegetated strips, even though a substantial body of evidence exists. We describe a systematic map of research relating to vegetated strips in boreo-temperate farming systems to answer the question: What evidence exists regarding the effects of field margins on nutrients, pollutants, socioeconomics, biodiversity, and soil retention in boreo-temperate systems?


We searched 13 bibliographic databases, 1 search engine and 37 websites of stakeholder organisations using a predefined and tested search string focusing on a comprehensive list of English language vegetated strip synonyms. Searches in Danish, Finnish, Spanish, and Swedish were also conducted using web searches. We screened search results at title, abstract and full text levels, recording the number of studies deemed non-relevant (with reasons at full text). A systematic map database of meta-data (i.e. descriptive summary information about the settings and methods) for relevant studies was produced following full text assessment. The systematic map database is provided as an evidence atlas: interactive, web-based geographical information system.


Over 31,000 search results were identified, resulting in a total of 1072 relevant primary research studies and 130 evidence reviews. Articles used a variety of terminology to describe vegetated strips, with ‘field margin’, ‘hedgerow’, ‘shelterbelt’ and ‘riparian buffer’ most common. The volume of primary research is increasing linearly year-by-year, whilst the increase in reviews has tailed off in the last 10 years. The USA and UK were most frequently studied and reviewed. Arable systems were investigated in c. 70% of primary research but 50% of reviews. Some 50% of primary research vegetated strips were field edge and 25% riparian, whilst riparian and field edge strips were roughly equally the focus of around a half of all described strips in reviews. Terrestrial biodiversity, nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and soil/water loss or retention were the most commonly measured outcomes in primary studies and reviews, although some other outcomes were more common in reviews than research articles (e.g. pesticides).


We identified substantial bodies of evidence on particular sets of related outcomes and ecosystem services, which constitute important knowledge clusters/synthesis gaps relating to: strip width, terrestrial biodiversity, nutrient retention, hydrological regimes, toxic substances, erosion protection, pests, carbon sequestration, and soil and biodiversity combined. We also identified key knowledge gaps relating to: climate regulation, freshwater biodiversity, strip harvesting, cultural ecosystem services, long-term impacts, the relationship between pest populations and crop yield, fuel and fibre production, specific regions and countries (e.g. Russia and South America), and multi-use vegetated strips. This systematic map is an important step in identifying what research has been done to date, and what primary and secondary research is needed as the next step for this topic.


Vegetative strip, Hedgerow, Beetlebank, Riparian buffer, Buffer strip, Filter strip, Buffer, Agri-environment, Agricultural policy, Mitigation, Agricultural pollution, Agricultural management

Who's in the review team?

Neal Robert Haddaway
Colin Brown
Jacqui Eales
Sönke Eggers
Jonas Josefsson
Brian Kronvang
Nicola Randall
Jaana Uusi-Kämppä

At what stage is the review?

Completed Review

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