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Semi-natural habitats and Ecological Focus Areas on cereal, beef and dairy farms in Ireland

Land Use Policy


Biodiversity and associated ecosystem services have declined globally with agricultural intensification identified as a major driver of this loss. The most recent reform of the Common Agricultural Policy resulted in the introduction of three mandatory 'Greening' measures aimed at improving the environmental performance of EU agricultural legislation. The Ecological Focus Area (EFA) measure within Greening was intended to help improve biodiversity associated with European tillage farms. To improve understanding of the implementation of this measure, data are needed on the areas within tillage farms that qualify as EFA. We also consider a scenario that implements an EFA measure on pastoral farming enterprises, assessing the percentage area of wildlife habitats contained within grassland farms. These data will aid in the implementation of appropriate management strategies to attempt to halt the decline of biodiversity and associated ecosystem services. We surveyed 119 intensively managed farms across three farming enterprises (tillage, beef and dairy) in Ireland to estimate the percentage of EFA and other farmland habitats occurring within these farms. Almost 10% of the total area of farms within this sample comprised habitats beneficial for wildlife, with linear features such as hedgerows, buffer strips and drainage ditches accounting for 43% of the total area of wildlife habitat surveyed. Hedgerows were the most abundant and frequently occurring wildlife habitat, present on 100% of farms surveyed and accounting for almost 3% of the total area of every farm. Other semi-natural wooded habitats (semi-natural woodland, isolated trees, field copse) accounted for a further 2% area of farms surveyed. All tillage farms and the majority of pastoral farms in our sample met the current 5% EFA requirement. Field margins were the most frequently encountered habitat that was ineligible under Irish EFA prescriptions, but which qualifies as EFA under EU legislation. Additionally, a large percentage area (6.8% after application of conversion and weighting factors) of tillage farms sampled was covered by habitats not classed as EFA under EU legislation. To facilitate enhanced environmental performance of EU agricultural legislation, a broader range of habitats beneficial for wildlife, already present on farms but not protected under legislation, may be incorporated into future prescriptions. Preserving these habitats can help reduce ecological losses, increase biodiversity and promote the sustainability of agricultural systems.

Author(s): Larkin, J; Sheridan, H; Finn, JA; Denniston, H; HUallachain, DO

Journal: Land Use Policy

Year: 2019


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