Boosting biodiversity on Open Source Future 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 farms.
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, 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; develop a unique farm Biodiversity Management Plan for each farm that can be integrated into the whole farm plan and monitor/evaluate how this process works to provide lessons on 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 to bring about positive changes in biodiversity management practices on farm.
Overview of the research project
Biodiversity Baseline – The first phase of the study aims to establish a baseline data 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 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” which will give an indication of the extent of linear features on the farm such as hedges and watercourses that provide a valuable network of corridors for wildlife.
Biodiversity Management Planning – The key information from the baseline data will be used to create a tailored biodiversity management plan for each farm. This will be done 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 along with the 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.
Plan Implementation - 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 be used as an information and experience sharing platform to support 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. Change will also be seen where there has been positive practice adoption which may come about from the adoption of best practice 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 Future Farms will be involved in all phases of this study which proposes a practical and inclusive approach in which biodiversity is recognised as an important aspect of the dairy farm sustainability.
First Published 9 June 2020