In response to consumer pressure and policy targets, there is a greater requirement to measure and verify the level of delivery of key sustainability indicators. A common approach involves individual assessment of farm performance according to criteria in a sustainability scheme.
Pilot project on farmland habitats
We're investigating how to include farmland habitats in assessments of agricultural sustainability. In addition, we are aiming to do so without the high costs associated with individual farm visits. Instead, we aim to see whether we can use aerial imagery and ICT (file-sharing of habitat photos) to make farmland habitat surveys a low-cost action. The key aim was: how to get from satellite imagery (as in Fig. 1 below), to a farm habitat map (see Fig. 2)?
In a Teagasc-funded project in partnership with Bord Bia, we collaborated on a pilot project to implement farmland habitat surveys on about 200 Irish farms that agreed to participate. The real challenge is to develop approaches and systems that could be scaled up to many more farmers if required. Thus, we are developing data management approaches that combine aerial photography, farm boundary data, and file-sharing of farm photos. We are also automating the preparation of farm habitat plans that include: a farm habitat map, habitat types and areas, a basic habitat descriptions and information on good management practice for wildlife, and photos of wildlife habitats on the farm. An example of some of the final output is provided in Fig. 3. This would satisfy the requirements of sustainability assessments.
Update 17 Nov 2020: see a more recent post ‘SmartAgriHubs:pilot incorporation of farmland habitats in Teagasc National Farm Survey’ that describes how we have used this method to pilot the incorporation of biodiversity into the Teagasc National Farm Survey.
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Sheridan, H., B. Keogh, A. Anderson, T. Carnus, B. J. McMahon, S. Green, and G. Purvis. 2017. Farmland habitat diversity in Ireland. Land Use Policy 63:206-213.
Sullivan, C. A., D. Bourke, M. S. Skeffington, J. A. Finn, S. Green, S. Kelly, and M. J. Gormally. 2011. Modelling semi-natural habitat area on lowland farms in western Ireland. Biological Conservation 144:1089-1099.
Sullivan, C. A., J. A. Finn, M. J. Gormally, and M. S. Skeffington. 2013. Field boundary habitats and their contribution to the area of semi-natural habitats on lowland farms in east Galway, western Ireland. Biology and Environment: Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 113B(2):1-13.