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Environmental benefits of key ACRES measures

Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) is Ireland's new agri-environment scheme under Ireland's CAP Strategic Plan and administered by the Department of Agriculture Food and the Marine.

Its objective is to help address biodiversity decline while delivering an income support for up to 50,000 farm families in Ireland. ACRES contracts for successful Tranche 1 applicants are to start from 1st January 2023. Below are some of the most popular general scheme measures that will be implemented on-farm in the coming months along with the environmental benefits from farmers carrying out these actions.

Planting Trees and Hedgerows

Trees and hedgerows provide multiple benefits, including crop protection, shelter and shade for livestock, improved biosecurity, water quality protection, carbon sequestration, pollen and nectar for pollinators, nesting resources for birds, and important foraging habitat for mammals including bats. Hedgerows are critically important as nature corridors connecting habitats throughout the landscape. A hedgerow over 1.8 metres in height that has a wide base, a mix of woody species for an extended pollen and nectar season, and has some mature trees, will have the greatest benefit for biodiversity. Hedgerows and Trees also have additional benefits for water quality when strategically positioned to help reduce soil erosion and sediment run off.

Providing a suitable habitat for Breeding Waders, Geese & Swans

Farmland breeding waders have suffered severe declines over recent years, namely Lapwing, Redshank, Snipe and Curlew. Breeding waders depend largely upon extensive farming systems, such as extensive grazing of upland commonages, lowland wet grasslands or machair grassland to breed successfully and maintain their populations. Without intervention like farmers are implementing in ACRES, the populations of some of these species are facing extinction.

A large influx of waterbird species fly from northerly regions into Ireland for the winter each year. These include Whooper Swan, Greenland White Fronted Goose, Barnacle Goose and Brent Goose. They arrive in Ireland during the month of September and forage on coastal grasslands, offshore islands and wetlands before returning north again to breed. Farmers undertaking the Geese & Swans measure in ACRES are allocating undisturbed foraging area to support overwintering these birds during their time here.

Extensively Grazed Pasture & Low Input Pasture

These actions encourage farmers to maintain environmentally friendly farming systems on selected parcels. Lands that are extensively grazed with low inputs provide a greater environmental return in terms of biodiversity, soil structure and water quality. Such extensively grazed parcels also benefit pollinators and are important in the maintenance of the rural landscape. Farmers who select Extensively Grazed Pasture must follow prescriptions on timing of mechanical interventions, nutrient quantities and pesticide application.

Low Input Grassland (LIG) is often similar to Extensive Grazed Pasture, but instead of management prescriptions, LIG is a result-based measure which means that the Fields are assessed through questions on a score card and given a quality score. The score card is comprised of positive and negative results indicators for measuring the total biodiversity present. Threats or risks to the ecological integrity or the future conservation quality of the field are also assessed and marked. Payment received is linked to the quality of the environmental outcome delivered rather than particular rules or actions.

Riparian Buffer Strips/Zones

Help protect water quality by intercepting the loss of sediment and nutrients from soil surfaces after they have been mobilised. This measure also takes small areas out of production, thereby reducing the nutrient load while also supporting biodiversity. Riparian buffer strips or zones can be created adjacent to small streams, surface drains, rivers, lakes or ponds. They are targeted to areas on the farm identified in the EPA Pollution Impact Potential-Phosphorus (PIP-P) maps, as high risk for the loss of phosphorus and sediment through overland flow and surface runoff.

Winter Bird Food

The scarcity of food throughout the winter period generates a serious challenge for the survival of many farmland birds. The establishment of a winter bird food crop, which is specifically tailored to support the eating habitats of numerous farmland species, has proven to be effective in reversing declining bird populations across Europe. These spring-sown winter bird food mixes provide a concentrated seed source so even small areas can have a tremendous impact by supporting a diverse range of bird species.

Traditional Dry Stone Wall Maintenance

The objective of this action is to maintain the network of traditional freestanding dry-stone walls which enhance the visual landscape and are an important part of our cultural heritage. Dry stone walls are walls built using stones that sit comfortably without the use of mortar and constructed in a style traditional to the locality. In addition to their agricultural contribution as stockproof boundaries and shelter to livestock, these also act as nature corridors, which provide protection to wildlife and are significant habitats for both flora and fauna.

Signpost Series Webinar: ACRES - an overview for farmers

On this episode of the Signpost Series which took place on Friday, 7 October, Mark Gibson, Head of Teagasc Outreach & Innovation Department, Teagasc was joined by John Muldowney, Pat Morrisson & Mark Crosbie, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) to discuss the Agri-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) - An overview for farmers.
A questions and answers session took place at the end of the webinar which was facilitated by Dr. Catherine Keena, Countryside Management Specialist, Teagasc.

Find out more about ACRES on http://gov.ie/acres
Read more about ACRES here