Measures aimed at protecting biodiversity in grassland are not being targeted properly according to a new report by top ecologists.
Despite millions being paid to farmers to maintain species of rich grasslands, the report by Teagasc and UCD experts for the Irish Journal of Agricultural and Food Research concludes that GLAS is having little benefit in halting species decline.
The payments for traditional hay meadows and low input pasture in environmental schemes such as AEOS and GLAS have proved to be among the most popular with farmers.
It is estimated that nearly half of all GLAS applicants have submitted close to 500,000 acres of land to avail of payments of €314/ha under the low input permanent pasture or traditional hay meadow options. It will account for over €62m of the annual payments being channelled to farmers through the scheme.
Over €25m was paid out to AEOS farmers in 2013 to maintain semi-natural grassland habitats. However, research has shown that the payments did not halt the decline in these environmentally valuable areas.
The authors concluded that "undemanding eligibility criteria, coupled with under-researched management prescriptions, are unlikely to result in an increase in positive indicator species".The amount of funding that has been allocated to monitoring and evaluating environmental schemes has long been an issue for environmentalists.
Despite best practice recommending a minimum of 1pc of total spend being ring-fenced for evaluation purposes, barely 0.1pc of the billions allocated to REPS, AEOS or GLAS has been allocated to monitoring the effectiveness of the measures.
Despite Natura grasslands qualifying for the lowest payment, they were the most valuable areas from a species diversity point of view.
"Even where compliance and participation are high, if a measure is not appropriately designed, it is unlikely to have the desired environmental benefits," the report concludes.
The area of grassland rich in biodiversity dropped by 38pc here over 20 years up to 1994.
This trend has continued according to one of the report's authors.
"With reseeding, most grassland on Irish farms now has less than 10 species. This matters because the fewer species there are, the narrower a range of insects and birds and mammals that will be able to survive on Irish farms," said Teagasc's Dr Daire Ó hUallacháin, one of the report's authors.