‘Farmers making a significant contribution to biodiversity’

National Biodiversity Week begins today...
‘Farmers making a significant contribution to biodiversity’

Minister Pippa Hackett visited an upland, high-nature farm, which participates in the Hen Harrier Project, in the Slieve Blooms in Co Offaly, over the weekend. File Picture. 

Marking the start of National Biodiversity Week, Minister Pippa Hackett acknowledged the contribution of farmers in maintaining biodiversity on their land.

In recent days, the Minister visited a high nature value farm in the Slieve Bloom mountains, which is part of the Hen Harrier project.

She also addressed a webinar showcasing three other farmer biodiversity projects including:

  • Biodiversity Regeneration in a Dairying Environment (BRIDE);
  • MacGillycuddy Reeks Project;
  • The Pearl Mussel Project.

The projects, including others, are supported by Minister Hackett’s Department through funding under the EU’s Rural Development Programme.

Farmers participating in the results-based project receive payments for delivering sustainable benefits for biodiversity.

Meanwhile, during a visit to the Hen Harrier Project on the high nature farm of George and Hazel McBryde, near Kinnitty, Co Offaly, Minister Hackett pointed to how rare and “beautiful” the hen harrier was.

“The hen harrier is not just a beautiful bird of prey, it is also an indicator species of a healthy ecosystem,” she continued.

“There are six confirmed breeding pairs in this area, and possibly more.

“Of course, we didn’t see any because they are sitting on their nests and we were very careful not to disturb them but I’m hoping to return later in the summer to see them in flight.

“The hen harrier is a rare, ground nesting bird and for them to nest, breed, hunt, and rear their chicks the land needs to be managed in a sustainable way.

“That’s why farmers, like George and Hazel, are so important, and I look forward to being able to continue to support this wonderful work.” 

Special Protection Area 

Fergal Monaghan, Hen Harrier Project manager, then highlighted how Slieve Bloom was a Special Protection Area (SPA).

“This region supports one of the largest Hen Harrier populations in the country.

“The birds that nest and rear their chicks here depend on the habitats that farmers maintain. 

“These farmland habitats do more than just support Hen Harriers, they benefit other wildlife, store Carbon, and improve water quality, all important public goods delivered through Agriculture."

IFA’s Environment & Rural Affairs Chairman Paul O’Brien said farmers and farming “play an important role in protecting and enhancing biodiversity”.

“Farmers do not get enough recognition for their role in protecting the quality of nature found in the countryside,” he added.

“Irish farmland is filled with a broad range of habitats from hedgerows, field margins, ponds, streams, native woodland, bogs and species-rich meadows and pastures.

“There are habitats in every farm corner that contribute to biodiversity.” 

Biodiversity and the EU

Ireland, meanwhile, has the third largest total hedgerow area in the EU.

The Teagasc Irish Hedge Map estimates Ireland's cover of hedgerows, individual trees and non-forest woodland and scrub is 450,000 hectares or 6.4% cover.

Hedgerows provide habitats for wildlife and play a role in carbon sequestration, potentially storing an estimated 70 tonnes of carbon per hectare.

Mr O’Brien, who is also Smart Farming’s Programme Leader, said that because the “basics” are already in place in Ireland, “these just need to be enhanced”.

“Appropriately-designed wildlife measures could play an important role in halting the decline of biodiversity and achieving the goals of sustainable expansion. 

“Ireland’s grass-based farming system is well positioned in terms of the wildlife and according to a recent UCD Farm Habitat survey, the average farm area under semi-natural habitat area across Ireland is 13%-15% compared to 2.1% in the Netherlands and between 1%-4% in Poland.

“Smart Farming, the resource efficiency programme, run by IFA in partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has started carrying out resource efficiency assessments across farms this National Biodiversity Week as part of the 2021 Smart Farming programme.”

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