At the beginning of December, biodiversity scoring took place on Tullamore Farm, in conjunction with the Biodiversity Regeneration in a Dairying Environment (BRIDE) project, which has now developed into the Farming with Nature standard.
This project aims to design and implement a results-based approach to conserve, enhance and restore habitats in lowland intensive farmland.
The results-based scheme saw different habitats across Tullamore Farm given a score for quality, with different measures receiving higher scores. A report was also compiled which details advice on how habitat scores will be improved.
There are 43 farmers in the BRIDE project who are increasing measures for Space for Nature and enhancing biodiversity on their farms. These farmers are doing so through better management of hedgerows, increasing the width of field margins, putting in new habitats, new woodland, ponds and new hedgerows.
Ecologist Laura Hynes estimated the space for nature on the farm before visiting using satellite images.
Visiting Tullamore farm then allowed her to ground truth the maps that she had been using on the computer. All of the habitats are classified as Space for Nature.
It’s not just hedgerows, field margins, scrub and riparian buffers that can be Space for Nature, but also woodland and wet and extensive grassland areas.
According to Laura, wet and extensive grassland areas tend to be subject to less fertiliser use and also tend to be richer in target species which holds a lot of benefits for biodiversity.
If any fields are extensive or have wet grassland, Laura checks them for indicator species or, in the case of wet grassland, for the presence of damp ground, the diversity of sward structure and management plan.
Indicator species are a list of certain flowers and flowering plants and the higher number of those in the field, the higher-quality score that grassland, whether it be extensive or wet grassland, will get. Examples of extensive grassland indicator species include yarrow, bedstraws and yellow composites.
Laura was also examining the field margins and scoring them as part of the project.
As previously mentioned, Laura had already mapped all of these habitats, but edited the width and looked for any disturbance or pesticide use.
These were recorded and an appropriate score given.
When mapping out a watercourse, Laura looked for a buffer beside it in terms of protecting water quality and providing habitats to wildlife.
Leaving these areas to grow untamed can be a good way of benefitting biodiversity and provide some riverbank stabilisation also, which prevents erosion. If it is fenced off, there’s no livestock access to it and any fertiliser spread in that field would not be able to enter the watercourse.
When it comes to looking at riparian buffer zones, Laura keeps an eye out for invasive species, such as Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam or Giant hogweed.
Hedgerows were also examined on Tullamore Farm. Again, the width was verified as well as any species present. Where there is a boundary hedgerow, for the purposes of estimating space for nature each farmer is assigned half of the value of the hedgerow.
If it is an internal hedgerow or a roadside hedgerow, they can use the full width of it and it is up to them to manage it.
According to Laura, it is preferred to see hedgerows that are not cut every year.
A hedgerow that is subject to cutting every year will receive a lower score, indicating a poorer-quality hedgerow.
If the hedge has not been cut in at least five years, this will earn the hedge the highest score possible in that section.
In terms of how Tullamore Farm’s hedgerows fared, some had not been cut for a few years and had plenty of trees along them. It is these types of hedges that hold the greatest benefits for biodiversity, Laura said. This is because they’d be left to flower and fruit every year.
Whitethorn needs at least two years growth to flower, so if they are cut every year, they won’t get a chance to flower or the fruit that comes after it.
In addition to this, they are also not able to fulfil their greatest potential in providing shelter for wildlife and livestock.
Laura noted that some of the hedges on Tullamore Farm, especially boundary hedges, were mature hedges and had a lot of ivy growing in them.
Ivy is a late-flowering plant, and when it starts flowering in late September, it is a really good source of nectar and pollen for any pollinators later in the season. When the ivy is thick, it also has potential for bats to roost and birds to nest. If hedges are trimmed every year, there is less habitat availability for wildlife.
Laura was also keeping an eye out for target species in the various habitats while groudtruthing Tullamore Farm.
Target species are a list of species that are most vulnerable and endangered in Ireland. Any birds that are target species would be found on the red list of Birds of Conservation Concern in Ireland, and this is what Laura noted when she visited the farm.
Examples of these birds include the barn owl and stock dove.