Advice for farmers who want to improve countryside’s natural health

Advice for farmers who want to improve countryside’s natural health

The Farming for Nature national initiative was established to help acknowledge and support those farmers who farm, or wish to farm, in a way that improves the natural health of our countryside.

It was set up by farmers and scientists, many of whom work on a voluntary basis to build up this network and profile the good practices that are happening across the country.

There are ways in which we can all get involved in this initiative.

Here are the answers to 30 of the most pressing questions generated from Farming for Nature’s conversations with farmers who want to make positive changes for nature on their land.

Why should I ‘farm for nature’?

If you are a farmer, and have heard of the loss of nature across Ireland, and the worries about climate change, and how land can help both hang onto carbon and also soften the impacts of climate change, then why not let this change start with you?

Sustainable, nature-friendly farming makes more sense, both financially and environmentally.

Examples include pollination, healthy soils, shelter belts, local amenity, and legacy.

Pollination: farmers growing crops such as oilseed rape, apples and strawberries, and vegetable crops like peas or courgettes are dependent on pollinators. Nitrogen fixing clovers in grassland swards are also insect pollinated.

So, what do bees, nature’s best-known pollinators, need?

They need food (pollen and nectar), shelter (such as hives for domestic bees, or cavities which wild bees excavate in soil, or long grass), and protection from insecticides. Go to pollinators.ie for more information.

Healthy Soils: the more earthworms and microbes in your soil, the better functioning the soil ( improved nutrient cycling and soil structure, more carbon etc), the more nutritious your crops will be.

Earthworms and other soil organisms till your soil, aerating and draining it; they are the living, beating heart of your soil.

Shelter Belts: hedgerow removal exposes livestock to wind and rain, as well as airborne diseases.

For tillage farmers, hedgerow removal allows your soil, when dry, to blow away and, when wet, to silt up nearby rivers and streams.

Advice for farmers who want to improve countryside’s natural health

Increasingly variable weather conditions that our generation is experiencing, now known to be a manifestation of climate warming, makes looking after your animals/crops/soil more labour intensive and more expensive.

Local Amenity: not only are you managing your farm, you are managing the landscape, air and water quality for your local community.

A farm’s impact is not restricted to its boundaries; the water, the plants, the animals that depend on these (including us) are healthier in the wider community if you are farming for biodiversity and leaving the water and air cleaner and fresher.

This in turn has a knock-on effect to physical and mental health benefits to both you, as the farmer, and those around you.

Legacy: You are leaving a legacy for the next generations; if when they inherit it, it is already damaged, they face a much greater challenge to create the best natural environment for their families and local communities.

As one of our farming ambassadors, Sean O’Farrell, said, we need to think ‘seven generations from now’.

The land has a value beyond money and that value can be increased by farming for nature.

You can really help these big problems by taking steps on your farm to look after and bring back nature.

Where do I start?

The first step to improving the value of your farm is to have a look at what wildlife it currently supports.

Take some time to map what broad habitats (land types such as wetland, peatland, grassland fertilised, grassland with zero inputs, woodlands, hedgerows and trees, river and lakes, tillage and arable areas, farm buildings) are already there.

Advice for farmers who want to improve countryside’s natural health

Note down some species, if possible.

As a general rule, the areas with no chemical inputs (semi-natural) are higher in biodiversity, it will be easier to plan how to improve them.

Similarly, understanding what areas of your farm are most important for wildlife can help you to protect them.

There is a variety of free and easy to use apps that can help with this task, if you want to learn more about what is on your farm.

These apps can help to identify and record plants, bird song, or make maps for what habitats are on the farm.

Biodiversity Data Capture: Allows you to record and submit wildlife sighting to the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

BirdNet or similar: Helps you to identify bird calls.

Plantnet: Helps you to identify plants, using photos.

ViewRanger: Mapping app that can be used to map habitats found on the farm.

Many more free nature- focused apps are available.

More of our Q&A next week on farmers’ positive changes for nature.

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