Tillage farmers face a fast turnaround on the establishment of green cover under the reviewed Nitrates Action Plan (NAP) expected to take effect from March 2022 which was published this week.

The measure for green cover establishment could have a devastating impact on some bird species associated with tillage which are already in decline.

Under the plan, it is outlined that shallow cultivation is required within seven days of baling straw or within seven days of straw chopping. This is in order to take up nutrients and reduce losses of nutrients to water over the winter time.

However, cultivating all of this land means that there will be no over-winter stubble available to some birds which are dependent on that habitat. Farm organisations have expressed concern over the measure on many issues, including the loss of birds associated with tillage land.

Food and cover for birds

While noting the problems with air and water quality in this country, head of advocacy at BirdWatch Ireland Oonagh Duggan stated to the Irish Farmers Journal that: “Winter stubble is a very valuable overwintering habitat for a range of bird species including the red listed Yellowhammer, Golden Plover, Northern Lapwing, Common Snipe and amber listed Skylark.

“Winter stubbles also provide food and cover for insects and small mammals, and is an important foraging habitat for species such as Barn Owl, Hen Harrier and Kestrel.”

The statement from BirdWatch Ireland continued on to say: “We note the proposed changes in the draft NAP with regard to continuous cover crops and call for the Department of Agriculture to fund Irish specific research into the proposed changes and impacts to red and amber listed birds of conservation concern to avoid further declines in these species”.

To see details on the the new NAP click here.