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Biodiversity Measures

An evaluation of existing and potential measures to sustain an increased biodiversity and water quality on Irish farms.

Intensification of agriculture over the last number of decades has led to a dramatic change in agricultural production methods. This in turn has resulted in a loss of biodiversity, resulting in significant implications for wildlife. In an effort to halt the decline in biodiversity, the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS) was initiated in Ireland in 1994 as the Irish government’s response to the EU Agri-environmental Regulation.

Measures involving field and watercourse margins affect almost all farmers who join agri-environment schemes. This project therefore evaluated the effectiveness of field and watercourse margin measures in agri-environment schemes from a biodiversity and water quality point of view. The project used a number of indicators, namely plants, insects, and small mammals to assess the quality of field and watercourse margins as a habitat for biodiversity.

The broad objectives of the study were to:

  • Evaluate existing field and watercourse margin measures in terms of protecting and sustaining biodiversity and water quality.
  • Develop potential new measures which will facilitate increased biodiversity within grassland field margins and watercourse margins on Irish farms.
  • Investigate the feasibility of implementation of these measures in an Irish context.

The study found that minimal-change management approaches (currently adopted in many agri-environment schemes), such as fencing and and/or the cessation of nutrients are unlikely to produce swards of conservation value. Furthermore, current guidelines in relation to fencing of riparian management are not promoting and enhancing farmland biodiversity. A variety of grassy, scrubby and woody habitats in these margins appropriately managed would benefit the biodiversity of riparian margins and associated habitats.

It is important to note that there is no one solution to appropriate management for all field and watercourse margins. Site specific management is required to conserve existing species and habitat variety and promote new habitat development.

Further information can be obtained from Dr. Daire Ó hUallacháin daire.ohuallachain[at]teagasc.ie

Further information

Ó hUallacháin, D., Anderson, A., Fritch, R., McCormack, S., Sheridan, H. and Finn, J.A. (2014) Field margins: a comparison of establishment methods and effects on hymenopteran parasitoid communities. Insect Conservation and Diversity , vol 7, 289-307

O hUallachain, D (2011) An evaluation of existing and potential measures to sustain an increased biodiversity and water quality on Irish farms RMIS 5584 (5584) 4 pages

Ó hUallacháin, D. and Madden, D. (2011) Riparian vegetated margins and small mammal communities: Implications for agri-environment schemes. Tearmann, The Irish Journal for Agri-Environmental Research, Vol 8, 15-24. Open Access version via T-Stór

Fritch, R.A., Sheridan, H., Finn, J.A., Kirwan, L. and Ó hUallacháin, D. (2011) Methods of enhancing botanical diversity within field margins of intensively managed grassland: a 7-year field experiment. Journal of Applied Ecology, 48, 3, 551-560.

O hUallacháin, D. (2011) An evaluation of existing and potential measures to sustain and increased biodiversity and water quality on Irish farms. Final Report on Behalf of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Fritch, R., McCormack, S., Sheridan, H., Finn, J.A. and Ó hUallacháin, D. (2010). Field margin biodiversity: wildlife on the edge. 9_TResearch_201005 Vol 5(2) p28-29