Greater steps required to green Irish agriculture, EU expert says

Published by Niall Sargent on

February 20th, 2019

Steps taken to green Irish agriculture are not currently being implemented to a sufficient enough level to meet our biodiversity goals, an EU expert has warned.

Speaking at the National Biodiversity Conference in Dublin Castle today, Dr Micheal O’Briain of the European Commission said that agriculture and nature go hand in hand in terms of their importance within EU policy.

Dr O’Briain warned, however, that there is still a long way to go to halt biodiversity decline linked to intensive agriculture both in Ireland and in Europe generally. There is a continuing decline in bird species dependant on farmland, he said, with a similar trend for pollinators such as butterflies.

He pointed to a study published in the journal Biological Conservation earlier this month found that global insect populations – including bees and butterflies – are collapsing largely as a result of intensive agriculture and the heavy use of pesticides.

In Europe, one of the major threats to biodiversity is the growth of conventional agriculture, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).

He said that there is a need for an evolution in agricultural policy to reflect the multi-functional purposes of agriculture and its duties beyond food production for wider eco-system services.

Dr O’Briain said that there will be more EU funding coming down the line for biodiversity measures through the next Common Agriculture Policy (CAP).

Common Agriculture Policy

The CAP provides an overarching framework and is the most influential policy on the conservation status of birds, insects and other wildlife on land and freshwater in Ireland.

Last week, the environment committee of the European Parliament voted to ring-fence €15 billion in the next CAP to support farmers in restoring nature on farmland.

The next step is for the Agriculture Committee of the Parliament to do the same and then the whole Parliament must endorse this approach for the funding to be integrated into the policy.

Biodiversity and climate change are “one and the same agenda”, Dr O’Briain added and called for nature-based solutions to be integrated into the 40 per cent of funding that EU states need to set aside for climate action in the next CAP scheme.

Dr O’Briain also praised innovative projects in Ireland where farmers are working together with nature in a profitable manner such as the Burren Life Programme.

He said that Ireland is “taking a lead” in terms of result-based schemes such as the BRIDE scheme for dairy farmers in Co Cork and stressed the need to build on these pilot schemes going forward.

Andy Bleasdale of the National Parks and Wildlife Service said that the Burren Life Programme is a “beacon of hope” in Ireland, with more recent projects such as the curlew conservation programme also rewarding farmers for protecting endangered species.

Such results-based schemes need to be embedded into the next CAP to encourage farmers to provide the ecosystem services that the general public want, he added.

He said that the various department and bodies are “doing a lot of under the bonnet work” to develop grassroots projects at a local level to and develop trust among farmers and bodies such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the NPWS.

He warned, however, that there remain threats and pressures to nature protected areas that are “are increasing on a daily basis” with land management not delivering to the extent required for habitats and species, including on agricultural land.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London