Five most effective ways in which people working on a farm can mitigate climate change and biodiversity loss:
Farmers growing crops such as oilseed, rapeseed, apples, strawberries, and vegetable crops like peas or courgettes are dependent on pollinators. Nitrogen fixing clovers, so important in grassland swards, are also insect-pollinated. So, what do bees, nature’s best-known pollinators, need? Food (pollen and nectar), shelter (domestic bees – hives; wild bees – cavities which they excavate in soil, or long grass) and protection from insecticides. One simple thing you can do to help pollinators is to leave some grasslands (even lawns!) unmowed and/or lightly grazed during the main flowering season (May to July) when they are flowering/seeding. Then harvest the grass in late summer so it creates space for next year’s crop of flowering plants. More information at pollinators.ie.
Maintaining Healthy Soils
More earthworms and microbes in your soil means a better functioning soil (e.g. improved nutrient cycling, water and carbon storage) and the more nutritious your crops will be. Earthworms and other soil organisms till your soil, aerating and draining it. They are the living, beating heart of your soil. Don’t treat soil like dirt – avoid exposing your soils, limit your use of chemical fertilizers and slurry and avoid soil compaction. Retain species-rich areas rather than replacing them with monocultures as different plants have different rooting depths and work better to aerate soils and capture nutrients.
Protecting Shelter Belts
Hedgerow removal, or excessive trimming, exposes livestock to wind and rain, as well as airborne diseases. For tillage farmers, hedgerow removal may cause the soil, when dry, to blow away and, when wet, to silt up nearby rivers and streams. With increasing variability in weather conditions such problems are likely to worsen. So, it’s time to value our hedgerows for the many services they provide. Never remove a hedgerow, instead, repair it if it’s not functioning well. Allow your hedgerows to grow up and out a little. Trim back the sides on a three year cycle and allow them to flourish skywards rather than suppressing them.
Considering the Local Amenity
Not only are you managing your farm, you are managing the landscape, air and water quality for your local community. A farm’s impact is not restricted to its boundaries; the water, the plants, the animals that depend on these (including us) are healthier in the wider community if you are farming for biodiversity and leaving the water and air cleaner and fresher. This in turn has a knock-off effect on physical and mental health benefits to both you as the farmer, and those around you. Protect the water bodies on your farm – make sure there are no pollution points or that stock doesn’t have unfettered access to waterways – water is life and we need to protect it.
Thinking of your Legacy
Farmers are very conscious of their legacy for future generations. As one of our farming ambassadors, Sean O’Farrell says, we need to think ‘seven generations from now’. The land has a value beyond money and that value can be increased by farming sustainably, for nature. It also gives future generations more choice. Think about your legacy, for your family, community, and how you might enhance it. Be a good ancestor and plant some trees for those generations ahead!