Farm Ireland

Saturday 21 April 2018

Opinion: Wild bird cover is proving a draw for local and migrant species

Ann Fitzgerald

Ann Fitzgerald

We are happy to be seeing the first tangible returns from our participation in GLAS, the Green Low-Carbon Agri-Environment Scheme.

There are three measures in our plan - planting a new native species hedge, low-input permanent pasture and wild bird cover. It's the last of these that interests me most and we are starting to see some results. For the past few years, Des Finnamore - a friend of ours who lives locally and is a recorder for BirdWatch Ireland -regularly surveys the farm and specifically a wet area, adjacent to which my husband Robin planted a few acres of trees over 20 years ago.

It was in a field near this that we sowed the wild bird cover with a linnet mix. And, on a recent trip, Des observed more greenfinches and linnets than he has seen before.

I know it's not a very scientific experiment and these birds are not exactly rare but we see it as a positive and are hoping that, as the winter goes on, there will be many more avian visitors. Other than that, the survey results were pretty similar to other years, with 29 bird species in total. As well as the usual residents, there are water birds like teal, mallard and shoveller plus a few hundred, mostly migrant, golden plover and lapwing.

Usually, I would have been out picking up conkers these past weeks. But, this year, I just didn't have the heart for it. Scarcely a week goes by now without mention of some tree pathogen and there was a warning recently about how the horse chestnut faces wipe-out in Britain within 15 years, due to a combination of the horse chestnut leaf miner moth and Bleeding Canker.

The prognosis for horse chestnuts here is little brighter. Especially since they are not a native species and have limited genetic diversity. Another tree which is under serious threat is the ash, due to chalara, which has been continuing to spread - albeit at a slightly slower rate than initially feared - and has now made its way all over the country, in just four years.

A month ago, I was walking in a stubble field when I noticed lots of ash saplings. I went back with a trowel and dug up about 50 of them. Ireland is still in the eradication mode for chalara but the experience elsewhere has been that some trees are resistant to the disease and the emphasis has switched to identifying them and collecting their seeds. I think this may also happen here at some stage and, who knows, maybe these ones will be the silver bullets?

The way our trees are going, we are going to need all the native hedge we can get and, in the next few months, we will be planting our GLAS stretch.

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Department figures indicate that 1,300km of new native hedging will be planted under the first tranche of GLAS. This is great to hear. However, my joy is not unmitigated.

Driving around the country, I can't help being struck at the amount of hedging being stripped back to its bones. Some people may feel it's easy for me to say this. A lot of work was done on this farm down through the years. If we were at a different stage in our farming lives, would I feel differently? Perhaps. But that shouldn't take from the veracity of my point.

But it just seems ironic that some farmers are effectively taking hedges out while others are being paid to put them in. Though it shouldn't come as a surprise either. For some, the message ringing loudest is the environmental one while, for others, driven by expansionary views, it is an economic one. Confusing!

Indo Farming