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Farming with Nature

Farming with Nature

John Oates is farming just north of Sligo Town. Whitethorn hedgerows provide field boundaries and shelter and shade for livestock. Environment and Technology Advisor Peter Mullan gives more information on how John is farming with the natural environment

John farms in the townlands of Rahaberna & Teesan just north of Sligo Town. The average farm size in the area would traditionally have been in the region of 50acres. Land quality, although hilly in nature, is for the most part quite good. There are also some low-lying ‘bottom’ areas which run to a stream which dissects the farm. As a result the landscape developed into a patchwork of small to medium sized fields. The predominant field boundary type in the area is whitethorn hedgerow. The original hedgerows on John’s farm which date from the 1880s are for the most part still intact. Very little field enlargement has been carried out over the years, the last short length of hedge was removed well over 30 years ago.

Excellent hedgerows on the farm

At present John has over 160m of hedgerow/Ha on the farm. The majority of these act as both external & internal field boundaries as well as providing shelter & shade for livestock when needed and are in excellent condition. As John was developing a rotational grazing system on the farm he decided to work with these hedges as opposed to removing and replacing them with wire fencing. With the hedges John tries to maintain a hedge height in the region of 6-8ft and only trims each hedge every 3-4 years. This allows the hedges to grow, thicken out, flower and produce food for wildlife. There are also many good examples of mature Ash & some Sycamore through these hedgerows.

It is important to note that up to 20% of the hedges on the farm have been allowed to grow out and have not been trimmed or rejuvenated.These are considered to be of enormous value from a biodiversity perspective.

10 years ago John inherited a 15 Ha farm from a relative which was in its original state.It was divided into 12 small fields, all somewhere between 3-5 acres in size. John embarked on a hedgerow rejuvenation programme over the course of a couple of years to restore the majority of these hedges to a stockproof condition. This was a huge success and resulted in minimal internal wire fencing being needed to divide this section of the farm into paddocks.

The message is simple: Biodiversity enhancement and modern farming methods can work hand in hand.   

You can find a wealth of information on this topic here at Hedgerows

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