A new online tool that allows farmers to assess the level of space provided for nature on their farm has been developed by the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) in Northern Ireland.
The “CAFRE BIO-tool” is an online resource that aims to to assess the “intended or unintentional provision for nature on a farm”, and will also provide farmers with some suggestions on how a farm can be developed further for biodiversity.
Nicola Warden, a biodiversity technologist at CAFRE, said: “We wanted to develop a simple tool which will allow farmers to firstly, calculate the percentage of semi-natural habitat that already exists on farm and secondly, to assess how the habitat is managed as a method of measuring the quality of the habitat.
“The tool can be downloaded from the CAFRE website and completed by any farmer or landowner by answering a series of questions relating to their farm. The tool is designed to cover a range of different farming types and enterprises.
“The tool will provide you with a habitat percentage and biodiversity assessment score based on your answers, and a list of suggestions on how the farm could be maintained or developed further for biodiversity.”
As an example, the tool has been completed on CAFRE farms the percentage habitat scores are:
Warden said: “The scores vary greatly between lowland, upland or hill farms, with the CAFRE hill farm having a high percentage habitat score due to the large areas of blanket bog and semi-natural grassland that are found there and this score should not be compared with the lowland farms.
“At present the EU and some UK countries have a target for all farms to have 10% semi-natural habitat by 2030.
“We can see that the dairy and crops unit, beef and arable sub-unit and the hill farm centre are over this target.”
She added: “Prior to 2020 the beef and arable sub-unit had a score of 4% based on hedgerows and a small wood, but through the addition of arable field margins, a field of agroforestry and the winter stubble from spring cropping, we have increased the score to 16%.”
The latest dates shows that the addition of arable margins only removed 0.15ha of land from agricultural production, allowing an excellent area for biodiversity.
For the unit that has a habitat score under 10%, the options CAFRE highlighted options to improve the score including:
- Managing hedgerows to grow taller and wider;
- Establishing margin options for grassland;
- Incorporating a farm pond into the landscape;
- Establishing further areas of agroforestry.
Warden is hoping that farmers who use the online tool will provide them with feedback which she said will “create more accurate estimates.”