The National Biodiversity Data Centre and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) are calling on farmers to protect, manage, and restore traditional meadows. These meadows are one of Ireland’s most important habitats as they can support a large number of species both above ground and in the soil. During the summer months, there can be over 500 flowers/m2 in a mixture of wildflowers and grasses found in meadows, which typically grow to around knee-high. A meadow has the potential to support thousands of different species such as bees, hoverflies, moths, worms, grasshoppers, beetles, and butterflies. Plants found in meadows can include yellow-rattle, red clover, ragged-robin, meadowsweet, bird’s-foot-trefoil, and knapweed.
Ruth Wilson, the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan farmland officer, stated that meadows can store 500% more carbon than pure grassland, making them a vital habitat for biodiversity. Meadows are usually managed with light grazing, mowing, and little, if any, fertiliser input. “They are some of the most amazing habitats for biodiversity, including our pollinating insects. They have such a rich variety of species within a very small area,” she said. However, these important habitats for biodiversity have been disappearing fast in recent decades. This is due to high-level farming production, along with the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides.
Wilson explained that traditional meadows are very low input and resilient to change. They can resist drought and low input of nutrients. High nutrients would actually damage them and they would be lost. “It is really looking at just how valuable they are for our future,” she said. “They are one of the most threatened and we’ve lost them at an alarming rate even in recent years. The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in the last six-year period noted a 30% loss of meadows in grasslands which they survey,” Wilson added.
Wilson urged farmers who have traditional meadow or pasture on their land to retain it in their farming system. “We wouldn’t recommend you burn off what you’ve got to plough and buy seeds. It’s a gentle way to restore what you have,” she said. She suggested that the best way to restore or expand these habitats on your farm is to look at meadows and pastures nearby and try to source local wildflower seeds there, if possible. Wilson added that meadows do require some level of input from farmers; they can be used to produce hay and can be lightly grazed by lighter breeds of cattle where ground conditions allow. “One of the problems is abandonment, and sometimes we don’t think about that. That’s if grazing has stopped or hay [production] is stopped; very quickly, they will become less species diverse. So, it’s just that gentle management is required,” she explained.
The National Biodiversity Data Centre wants to celebrate these special habitats and has asked farmers across the country to tell them about their meadows by emailing: [email protected] By protecting, managing, and restoring traditional meadows, farmers can play a vital role in conserving Ireland’s biodiversity and ensuring a sustainable future for the country’s rich variety of species.