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«The Economic and Social Aspects of Biodiversity Benefits and Costs of Biodiversity in Ireland REPORT PREPARED BY: CRAIG BULLOCK, OPTIMIZE CONSULTANTS ...»

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Agriculturalists understand that a diverse covering of vegetation provides herbivores with naturally diverse and nutritious grazing. Many farmers too recognize the benefits of both vegetation and crop diversity. They are aware that combined sheep/cattle grazing systems can be more productive than ones based on simple species. Sheep reduce the amount of clover but increase the amount of Poa trivialis, whereas cattle tend to increase the relative amount of clover to grass (Conway et al, 1972, van Rensburg, 2006). Unfortunately, artificial support policies have tended to favour specialization.

Research by De Falco and Perrings (2005) confirms the benefits of diversity in terms of both revenue and risk aversion in cereal production. High levels of stocking, supported through the application of inputs and additional food supplements, will impact on the more palatable species, leaving behind less palatable and nutritious grasses such as nardus or mollinea in the case of upland grazing (Hulme et al. 1999). Early appearing grass species that are important for spring nutrition are also suppressed by heavy grazing (Silva, 1987). Even after 30 years, fields that have previously been fertilized with phosphates (15-30kg/ha), have been found to still be dominated by single species such as L. perenne with only low levels of nutritious Agrostis tenuis and Poa trivialis (Culleton et al, 2001).

3.5.3 P O L I C Y O P T I ON S Policy is now changing. Significant changes have been foisted on the CAP in response to budgetary constraints and pressures to achieve consensus on world trade. REPS has encouraged more environmentally friendly farming and is incorporating new measures that are more pro-active. Even aside from REPS, all farmers are now being supported through area-based payments rather on output. This reduces the incentive to over-production and leaves open more options for enlightened policy support.

There is, however, no evidence, as yet, that agri-environmental measures such as REPS, are having any significant impact on biodiversity (Feehan et al, 2002), an observation that appears to be mirrored elsewhere in Europe (Kleijn, et al, 2001). Part of the problem is that agri-environmental schemes only operate at farm level whereas biodiversity really requires policies that operate at the wider landscape level. At this level, Haines-Young et al. (2003), in a major UK study of all farm types, find positive trends towards more extensive (lower input) farming in the uplands, an overall lessening of the conversion of semi-natural habitats, and an increase in woodland cover. At the same time, though, they report a decline in the quality of these habitats and a widespread loss of biodiversity on lowland farms. Similar trends have probably been occurring in Ireland.

Looking ahead, there is still the risk that smaller Irish farms will disappear and those that remain will be yet more homogeneous and dominated by grass. Marginal farming areas could be farmed very extensively or virtually abandoned (Binfield, et al. 2003). Such trends could further reduce biodiversity.

The positive factor is that Irish farmers have shown themselves to be responsive to policy incentives. Just as in the past, policy led to a loss of low-intensity mixed farming, so it can be retuned to support more sustainable farming and better agri-environmental policies that could deliver on biodiversity. One option is a landscape led approach, rather than a conservation led approach, that maintains biodiversity in complex landscapes containing areas of natural and semi-natural habitat that compensates for more intensive activity elsewhere (Tscharntke et al., 2005).

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