Trinity professor helps bring Irish farming towards a greener future

Managing agriculture could help biodiversity efforts

The agricultural sector undoubtedly plays a crucial role in the Irish economy with just under 10% of our national employment within the umbrella of agri-food. Faced with concerns over the impact of modern farming practices on our climate, and general unease over the consequences of Brexit, the future of the sector remains uncertain. The Common Agricultural policy (CAP) is a policy for farming and agriculture throughout all EU member states. Its aims are to support farmers and rural areas, to ensure a stable food supply for Europe and to contribute to global efforts to tackle climate change. In a recent assessment of the status of EU-protected habitats and species in Ireland, it was found that agricultural practices negatively impact over 70% of said habitats. Actions are now underway for the next cycle of the CAP which will take effect from 2021 until 2027. As this will bring us almost to the end of the UN’s estimated 11 years until we reach the climate’s equivalent of the point of no return. In this way, the importance of how Ireland and Europe as a whole handles agricultural matters and biodiversity in this time frame cannot be understated.  

The majority of funding for Irish biodiversity efforts and campaigns comes from the CAP. A workshop of Ireland’s leading environmental academics in association with the National Biodiversity Forum proposed six main measures in which “nature based” farming solutions can be introduced to promote biodiversity within the Irish rural farming landscape. These CAP4Nature principles highlight that our natural habitat is under extreme pressure and that we are facing “a mass extinction” and hence farming practices must adapt accordingly. Flexible long term plans need to be put in place for the revival of our national biodiversity. Given the unpredictable nature of the climate crisis, plans must be able to adapt to our changing planet. The plan bears in mind that the diversity of the Irish rural landscape does not allow for a one size fits all implementation of CAP policies. The principles will hopefully act as a guide to policy makers in implementing new CAP policies. 

Professor Yvonne Buckley is Chair of Zoology in Trinity and Chair of the National Biodiversity Forum. As such, she helped to spearhead the formulation of the CAP4Nature plans. According to Buckley: 

“The CAP Strategic Plan represents an important opportunity for Ireland to shape the way it spends money on farming. Over the next 12 months, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has a unique opportunity to embed ecological principles that improve farmers’ livelihoods by responding to the climate and biodiversity crises. It’s a win-win.”

The benefits of managing our farm land to increase biodiversity are numerous. It is proven to improve water quality, soil health and pollinator numbers. So while the incentives for wildlife and climate are clear, the principles suggest that farmers who support nature could be rewarded with agricultural payments.

“Paying farmers for these benefits can boost farm incomes and improve the wider rural economy, while ensuring that Ireland’s reputation as a green and sustainable country producing high quality food delivers on its ecological objectives,” said Dr James Moran, lecturer in agri-environment at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.

The National Biodiversity Forum workshop was funded by the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.

Lucy Fitzsimmons

Lucy Fitzsimmons is the current Deputy SciTech Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Fresh Chemical Sciences student.