Help nature thrive on your farm through ACRES
Catherine Keena, Teagasc Countryside Management Specialist
Help nature thrive on your farm alongside food production – with possible support from ACRES says Catherine Keena, Teagasc Countryside Management Specialist during Sustainability Week. Three key messages are:
- Don’t top Escaped hedges and don’t let Topped hedges escape
- 3 Rs for upland grazing: Right stocking rate, Right time of grazing; Right stock type
- Don’t sow – let grassy margins grow
The new Agri Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) is a five year scheme that can help farmers deliver on these three messages to help address the biodiversity crisis
1. Don’t top Escaped hedges and don’t let Topped hedges escape
Farmers can undertake to plant or rejuvenate hedges under ACRES. Understanding the nature of hedgerows is critical to their management. There are two types of hedge with different biodiversity values and each type needs different management:
- Escaped (Never topped / Treeline / Linear woodland) which has huge biodiversity value in the canopy while thin at the base; and
- Topped which has huge biodiversity value in the dense base for nesting birds and cover for small mammals and can still have some of the canopy biodiversity when occasional thorn saplings are allowed grow up and mature as flowering and fruiting thorn trees.
Failure to distinguish between these has led to confusion and inappropriate management of both types. Best Practice management is not helped by some calling for hedges not to be cut at all with no understanding how hedges grow. Teagasc recommendation is that every farm should have a proportion of Escaped hedges and Topped hedges managed according to Best Practice which is not to top escaped hedges and not to let topped hedges escape.
2. Three Rs for upland grazing
Right stocking rate, Right time of grazing; Right stock type are the three Rs needed for sustainable management of our uplands. Under ACRES uplands will be assessed and scored with payments relating to their condition for biodiversity and carbon sequestration. This will hopefully encourage sustainable farming systems. There are two problems associated with uplands, first overgrazing which reduced the vegetation diversity and can cause problems for water quality. The other problem is undergrazing or abandonment resulting in scrub encroachment or strong vegetation dominating, which reduces diversity and is likely to dry out peatlands and increase the risk of uncontrolled burning. Sustainable grazing is needed rather than re-wilding. Appreciation is needed for the hill farmers who are the guardians of the unique natural and cultural heritage of our uplands – they are irreplaceable.
3. Don’t sow – let grassy margins grow
We need space for nature on our farms alongside food production and allowing nature take its course is always best. Creating grass margins alongside field boundaries feature in ACRES. This involves fencing off linear strips to allow the vegetation grow and flower, only to be cut or grazed in September to prevent scrub encroachment and maintain the rough grass vegetation which is a very important habitat missing from intensively managed farms. On tillage fields margins are created by sowing a mix of Cocksfoot, Timothy and red clover.
There is no support for sowing ‘wildflowers’ which are not recommended on farmland, rather an emphasis on an appreciation of what is growing wild - part of our native Irish biodiversity. Grass margins on farms and roadsides have a particular value because if their linear nature. Birds, bats, bees and butterflies fly along hedges and grass margins rather than crossing open fields.
With over thirty actions in ACRES, there is something for ever farmer to help nature thrive and pass on a farm richer in biodiversity to the next generation.