Monday, 18 November 2013

Diversity of field boundaries on lowland farms in the west of Ireland

Caroline Sullivan and colleagues have just had a paper published in Volume 113, issue 2 of Biology and Environment. The title of the paper is ‘Field boundary habitats and their contribution to the area of semi-natural habitats on lowland farms in east Galway, western Ireland'. Read an Open Access version of the paper on T-STór here.
The variety of field boundaries that are found on Irish farmland were recorded and the contribution of these field boundaries to the semi-natural habitat area of lowland farms in east Co. Galway was quantified.  See below for examples of common Irish field boundaries, and an overview of the main results.

Left-A stone wall with a mature treeline in east County Galway. Right-A farmed landscape in south County Mayo with stone walls and hedgerows. 
Field boundaries were found to contribute up to 100% of the semi-natural habitats on some farms, highlighting their importance as a farmland habitat. A high proportion of the field boundaries were hedgerows but other field boundaries were dominant in some areas giving the landscape a different character, particularly where stone walls or earth banks were common.

The paper also reports on the condition of the hedgerows and found that the majority were not in good ecological condition (according to defined criteria). Many of them exhibited large gaps or were getting quite leggy. See below for an example of a hedgerow in poor condition for wildlife and indeed for stock-proofing also.

A hedgerow in east Galway showing large gaps. It is no longer functioning as a stock-proofing boundary.

The vegetation of the hedgerows was also described. Many of the hedgerows were species-rich but even those that were species-rich were not necessarily in favourable condition for wildlife.

The beautiful Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus) found in hedgerows in east County Galway.
The paper gives details of the types of field boundaries found on the farms and shows the variability of these field boundaries within a relatively small area, which highlights their contribution to local biodiversity.

This research on environmental public goods on Irish farmland is timely, given the current requirement of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) to deliver environmental public goods, as well as the increased national focus on measurement of the sustainability of Irish agriculture. 

Sullivan et al. 2013. Biology and Environment ‘Field boundary habitats and their contribution to the area of semi-natural habitats on lowland farms in east Galway, western Ireland'.

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