Intensive farming depleting farmland biodiversity, event told


Despite EU spending of about €100 billion on agri-environment schemes in the past 20 years, Europe is still seeing declines in species such as farmland birds, bees and butterflies, a Teagasc agri-environment conference in Dublin heard yesterday.

Michael Hamell of the European Commission’s environment section said European farmers claimed, with some justification, to be guardians of the land but it was sobering to reflect on the extent of change in farm practices and their largely unintended negative effects on the environment.

He said the dairy sector had become more productive partly because of an increase in the use of silage and concentrates but this had resulted in a reduction of highly ecological grassland.

Intensive farming

“Likewise, the change from spring to winter cereals has removed feed sources for birds and increased soil run-off and water pollution,” he said.

“Today’s intensive farming systems leave little room for biodiversity so new solutions must be found.”

Mr Hamell said these facts were behind the commission’s proposals to “green” the Common Agricultural Policy (Cap).

There was no public appetite for having parts of Europe not delivering environmental services while receiving funds under Cap.

He also expressed concern about the amount of “land take” from agriculture for infrastructure and urbanisation in Europe. “We now estimate this to be the equivalent of the land area of Berlin each year, Cyprus every 10 years and the equivalent in wheat production of the bread consumption of Germany.”

Mr Hamell said Europe was increasingly dependent on “imported land” from the rest of the world to produce its food.

Paul Crosson of Teagasc’s animal and grassland research and innovation centre said Teagasc and Bord Bia were working on a software programme that would help farmers identify measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to achieve these reductions.

Carbon Navigator

He said the Carbon Navigator would give farmers an indication of how their current and target levels compared with other farms operating similar farming systems.

“Clearly demonstrating sustainable production practices and the development of management systems that further enhance sustainability is a key requirement of export markets,” Dr Crosson said. “There is a significant focus on greenhouse gas emissions.”