Thursday, 2 May 2013

Pilot project: The Farmland Wildlife Survey

This pond was voluntarily created in 2003 (Co. Louth), and represents a
considerable level of interest in farmland habitats by farmers. How can we stimulate this interest?
Communicating the wildlife value of different farmland elements is crucial first step in supporting conservation of wildlife. This pilot project provided farmers and farm advisors with a wildlife survey of this farm, and was valued by participants as a method to improve their communication to visiting groups of farmers.

 In 2005, we received a Wildlife Grant from The Heritage Council to communicate a greater awareness of farmland wildlife to farmers, especially in relation to farmland in the wider countryside (occurring outside of protected areas ). 

Although this project relates to the Irish agri-environment scheme (REPS, which is no longer being offered to new entrants), many of the issues and lessons from this work remain relevant to current and future agri-environment schemes. One of the main lessons was that there is a strong need to improve farmers' understanding about specific wildlife objectives, and for improved communication about the beneficial features and practices on an individual farm. This work also highlighted the role of farmer groups in enhancing learning, and the contribution of specialists in environmental/ecological science in contributing to this.

The Farmland Wildlife Survey (see full report here) involved a short visit (lasting about 3 hours) to 19 REPS demonstration farms, and an identification of habitats and wildlife on each farm, with an emphasis on common farmland habitats such as hedgerows, ponds, watercourses, field margins, woodland, plant species and other areas of wildlife value. The survey results were provided to the farmer and Teagasc REPS advisor as a report with colour pictures of representative habitats, and an explanation of why these habitats were important for wildlife.

  • The attitudes and beliefs of the farmers were investigated with a short questionnaire. All farmers in the project farmed with some degree of sensitivity and consideration for wildlife and farm habitats. While most of the farmers were quite aware of farmland wildlife before joining REPS, most credited REPS for an increased awareness of the needs of wildlife in the farmed landscape. Most of the farmers believed there is a need for improved provision of information about identity and management of farmland habitats and wildlife.
  • The outcome of the farm survey was provided to each farmer as a short report with colour pictures of relevant wildlife features on their farm. The results of the survey were also summarised in a leaflet for distribution to farmers who visited the REPS demonstration farms.
  • Feedback on the farm visit or in subsequent comment cards was very positive. REPS planners have found the reports useful. In addition, some Teagasc REPS advisors are using the reports as part of farmer training visits to the demonstration farms. In this way, the Farmland Wildlife Survey can complement wildlife objectives of the REPS and promote a greater awareness of wildlife amongst farmers

A full report on the Farmland Wildlife Survey is available as a Teagasc End-of-Project Report.

Hedgerow, ditch and a field margin with a diverse and bulky sward provide excellent conditions for farmland wildlife (Co. Kerry).

The Farmland Wildlife Survey was conducted by Mairead Gabbett.
Mairead Gabbett and John Finn gratefully acknowledge the award of a Wildlife Grant by the Heritage Council.

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