The Irish landscape with its associated biodiversity has been shaped by millennia of agricultural activity, with nature providing the raw material. Irish farmland is characterised by having a good diversity of habitats such as hedgerows, field margins, ponds and streams, native woodland, bogs and species-rich meadows and pastures. Irish biodiversity therefore depends on farmland habitats.
Everywhere on a farm is a habitat and every farm contributes to biodiversity. Flora and fauna are adapted to live in different habitats. A field of ryegrass or corn contains a small number of species, whereas a hedgerow contains hundreds.
The most common farmland habitats are hedgerows with other important farmland habitats including, native woodland, bogs and species rich grassland. The most important habitats are designated as protected areas, and cover over ten per cent of the country:
- Special Areas of Conservation (SAC’s) are for flora and fauna of European importance, e.g. the Burren.
- Special Protection Areas (SPA’s) are for areas with birds of European importance, e.g. the Shannon Callows.
- Natural Heritage Areas (NHA’s) are important habitats in Ireland with a variety of rare species of flora and fauna.
The network of habitats throughout the countryside provides connectivity for wildlife. Sensitively managed farmland can greatly benefit wildlife and help halt the decline of Ireland’s biodiversity.