Boosting biodiversity on farms
Habitats such as hedges, watercourses and field margins are features that define the Irish agricultural landscape and boost the biodiversity and sustainability of our farms.
Adopting simple and effective practices on farms can greatly improve the management of biodiversity and sustainability on dairy holdings.
A key objective of the Glanbia Ireland/Teagasc Open Source Future Farm programme is to achieve 7-10% biodiversity on the 11 participating farms.
Teagasc Walsh Scholar, Aoife Leader (pictured), who is completing a Masters in Agricultural Innovation Support, is working with the 11 farmers involved in the programme to establish a baseline indication of biodiversity management practices on each farm. Together they will develop a unique farm Biodiversity Management Plan that can be integrated into the overall strategy for each individual enterprise. Monitoring and evaluating how this process works will inform better communication of biodiversity management advice.
Aoife explained the research involves piloting a new approach that communicates and integrates biodiversity management practices into whole-farm planning; thereby bringing about positive changes in biodiversity management practices on-farm.
Overview of the research project
The first phase of the study aims to establish a baseline data breakdown of the biodiversity features and management practices currently in place on the farms. To do this, on-farm biodiversity features such as hedgerows, stonewalls, watercourses, tree groves, farmyards, forts, ponds, and other habitats have been mapped using mapping software and with the input of each farmer. The habitats from these maps will be combined to provide a “% Biodiversity on the Farming Platform” figure for each farm. The participating farmers also took part in an interview to assess their current biodiversity management practices and knowledge of biodiversity on their farms.
The Teagasc Biodiversity Management Practices Index (BMPI) tool was used to establish current practices associated with four broad characteristics of intensive dairy farms which are most relevant to biodiversity: farmed landscape structure, hedgerows, field margins and watercourses. One of the useful indicators to come from this will be “Average Field Size”. This will give an indication of the extent of linear features on the farm such as hedges and watercourses which provide a valuable network of corridors for wildlife.
Biodiversity Management Planning
Key information from the baseline data will be used to create a tailored biodiversity management plan for each farm. This will be carried out in collaboration with the participating farmers on an individual basis. A Biodiversity Management Planning Tool, which has been developed especially for the purposes of the study, will be used in this planning phase. This sets out the baseline data, biodiversity targets and actions to be taken to achieve an improvement. This will be a useful reference point for farmers as they strive for sustainability on their farms.
The adoption of biodiversity management practices will be supported using various communication methods. For example, the participants will be involved in a WhatsApp group dedicated to improving biodiversity practices. This will serve as a platform to share information and experiences that will assist the implementation of each individual plan.
Measurement of Change
Changes in biodiversity management practices will be evident where there has been an increase in “% Biodiversity on the Farming Platform” or a decrease in “Average field size”. This can be achieved where new native hedgerows are planted, where field and watercourse margins are widened, or where other habitats are enhanced or created. Positive change will occur through the adoption of best-practice when it comes to hedgerow maintenance or rotational hedge cutting; where watercourse management is enhanced; or where cultivation and spraying practices within field margins are improved. Changes such as these will be measured to establish the effectiveness of the communication methods employed.
The Glanbia Ireland/Teagasc Open Source Future Farm participants will be involved in all phases of this study which proposes a practical and inclusive approach wherein biodiversity is recognised as an important aspect of dairy farm sustainability.