10 Ways to Help Biodiversity
Nature responds quickly when land is managed in a way that is more favourable to biodiversity. Everyone who manages land, whether is be a small garden, a large farm or public spaces, can greatly improve the landscape for biodiversity, by making small changes. Here are 10 easy ways that our local environment can be improved to make space for biodiversity
Cease or Limit the Use of Pesticides
There are health and safely arguments for the use of pesticides on railway tracks and along public pavements. Outside this, a culture has developed where we use them to tidy up our natural world. It is hard to justify the need to use pesticides in our gardens, local communities or along roadsides unless lines of sight are being impacted or measures are needed to control invasive species. By embracing nature in its slightly untidy beauty we would both save money and pass on a richer and more diverse landscape for future generations. (Unnecessary spraying looks ugly too. Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Create a Wetland
Wetlands are of enormous importance for biodiversity, particularly in Ireland where we have such a moist climate. A great many species depend on wetlands for part or all of their life cycle. Dead plants break down in water, and this provides an enriched food source for small aquatic insects and other wetland species. They in turn are predated upon by fish, amphibians, birds and mammals, thus are a vital component of the food web in any ecosystem. A newly created pond or other wetland will be colonised immediately by aquatic insects, and over time this will evolve to serve as a local reservoir of biological diversity. (Wetlands of any size are good for biodiversity. Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Leave Grassland Unfertilised
Grasses are aggressive and will outcompete wildflowers in fertile soil. If you’re a horse farmer you know this and encourage the mix of the two. For others, where small areas of land can be taken out production they should be left unfertilised to increase the growth of wildflowers. Wild flowers provide food for our pollinators and other insects, including those that keep crop pests under control. Birds and mammals will feed both on the fruits and seeds of the wildflowers as well as on the insects they support (Devil’s-bit-scabious growing in profusion in an unfertilised field. Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Plant Native Trees and Shrubs
Planting native trees and shrubs is an excellent way to support biodiversity. Flowering trees can be particularly important for pollinators in springtime because many types bloom early, when little else is in flower to provide food. Those with berries or seeds will also provide food for birds and mammals in the autumn. Good trees and shrubs to plant include Hazel, Willow, Hawthorn, Wild Cherry, White-beam, Guelder-Rose, Elder. It is important that you source locally grown stock so that it is in synch with our climate and the rest of our wildlife. (Bumblebees enjoying early flowering willow. Photograph: Tomas Cuffe)
Don't Cut Raised Bogs
Due to a combination of climatic and topographic influences Ireland once supported the finest examples of raised bog in Europe, and possibly in the world. These highly specialised features have a unique biodiversity that is of inordinate conservation value. Yet due to drainage and exploitation of raised bogs less than 10% of the 308,742ha of raised bogs that once extended across the midlands of Ireland, is now of conservation value. Despite this importance of this heritage, raised bog are still been destroyed. The immediate cessation of cutting on the remaining 10% of raised bogs of conservation value would make a huge contribution to the conservation of Ireland’s biological diversity (Raised bogs are one of Ireland’s most unique habitats. Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Let Dandelions Grow
It is not overstressing the point to say that Dandelion is the most important food plant for our insects in spring. If we had more Dandelions in Ireland we would have more pollinators. We know that from mid-March until mid-May it is vital for our bees and other early flying insects like butterflies. After the plant has finished flowering it produces seed that is a great favourite with birds such as the Greenfinch and Goldfinch. The leaves of the plant are also food for a number of moth larvae, including the beautiful Garden Tiger moth. More Dandelion = more biodiversity! (You cannot overstate the importance of dandelions in spring. Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Maintain Winter Stubble
In arable areas the seed bank available in winter stubble fields is a vitally important resource for seed-eating birds to help them get through the lean winter months. Where stubble is retained, birds find spilt grain and seeds from broad-leaved weeds to feed on, meaning that they are in good condition coming into the breeding season (Winter stubble provides food for birds in winter. Photograph: Liam Lysaght).
Introduce Biodiversity Friendly Mowing
Many a husband across Ireland has asked us for this in writing! Regularly mown grass looks neat but is a green desert for biodiversity. Cutting less often allows wildflowers to grow and provide important food for our insects, especially pollinators. Identify some areas where you don’t begin mowing until after the 15th April and then cut on a 6 weekly rotation. Not cutting until mid-April allows Dandelions to flower but not set seed. Cutting at the end of May and not again until mid-late July will increase the growth of important wildflowers like Clover, Selfheal, Cuckooflower and Bird’s-foot-trefoil. (A biodiversity friendly mowing regime can look good too. Photograph: Liam Scott).
Retain Hedgerows and Patches of Scrub
Retaining hedgerows provides vital corridors for biodiversity across our countryside, and particularly in farmed landscapes. Hedgerows provide both food and nesting areas for insects, birds and mammals. Flowering hedgerows that contain Willow, Blackthorn and Hawthorn provide vital food for bees in spring and for birds and mammals in the autumn. Hedgerows should only be cut every three years to encourage flowering. The bases of hedgerows should not be sprayed to allow wildflowers to grow and provide areas for insects to nest. Patches of scrub provide similarly important resources for biodiversity within the farmed landscape so these should be retained. (Kilkenny landscape of hedgerows and scrub. Photograph Liam Lysaght)
Don't Drain Fields
Wet, poorly drained fields or unfertilised fields that are periodically flooded are becoming increasingly rare in Ireland, yet they are enormously valuable for biodiversity. Wet grasslands generally support a diverse and specialised plant community, and important insect communities. The reduction in wet grassland has also led to the dramatic decline in breeding waders, most notably Curlew and Redshank. Consequently the remaining areas of wet grassland are of huge conservation value, so they should be not be drained (A species-rich wet grassland. Photograph: Liam Lysaght).