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Improving biodiversity on farm

Improving biodiversity on farm

Eamonn Dempsey, Teagasc Advisor, tells you how you can improve biodiversity on your farm.

Biodiversity covers all plant and animal species as well as micro-organisms that grow and live on and around your farm. Biodiversity is flora, fauna and the habitats in which they exist. Everywhere has some flora and fauna, but some habitats have more species or rare species such as native woodland, watercourses, hedges and field margins. The intensification of agriculture has led to a biodiversity decline in Ireland resulting in the government declaring a climate and biodiversity crisis on 8th May 2019. Thoughts quickly turned to how current agricultural practices can have a negative effect on farm biodiversity. Improving pasture and increasing stocking rates results in less plant diversity. The increasing and inappropriate use of pesticides and inorganic fertilisers results in fewer flowering plants, fewer insects, less food for birds and polluted watercourses. The loss of wetlands through drainage results in fewer wetland plants, invertebrates, birds and mammals. There is no doubt that agricultural intensification has reduced the range of plant and animal species on many farms but there is also an understanding that farmers can maintain and improve biodiversity without abandoning efficient farming practices.

What can you do to improve biodiversity?

Each farm has its own unique collection of habitats. In order to sustain farm biodiversity, you first have to establish the types of habitats that exist on your farm. Assess the extent and condition of all habitats on the farm and maintain by following best practice e.g. hedge trimming or careful use of pesticides. If invasive alien species are present, aim to remove as they cause damage in many ways, but mainly by displacing native plants. Noxious weeds such as docks, ragwort and thistle should be kept under control by mechanical means or they can be spot treated.

Habitats in poor condition can be rejuvenated and new habitats can be created by planting trees or hedgerow. Biodiversity management practices undertaken must come from an understanding of biodiversity to be appropriate, for example, while planting new hedges is good for biodiversity, retaining existing old hedges with huge levels of associated fungi, lichen, moss and invertebrates is far more beneficial. Although you are permitted to cut hedgerow from September 1st, remember that autumn is an important time for wildlife as they build their food stores for the winter. Hedges at this time of year are heaving with fruit, nuts and berries so if possible hold off hedgerow cutting until later in the season.

On intensively managed farmland, the most common habitats are linear - hedges, field margins and watercourses. They act as protected routes for nature, through the landscape allowing productive farming and biodiversity to co-exist provided both are managed according to best practice. Irelands CAP Strategic plan 2023 – 2027 contains an agri-environment climate measure known as the Agric-Climate Rural Environment Scheme (ACRES) a successor to the GLAS Scheme. This scheme is designed to deliver significant long term improvement in biodiversity only through participation by a significant number of farmers on the most appropriate land.

National Biodiversity Week Ireland 2023 takes place 19th – 28th May. 'Explore the rich variety of life in Ireland this May with a host of wonderful events and activities for the whole family.'
Find out more about National Biodiversity Week here.