Agriculture will be increasingly expected to deliver farming systems that enhance farming livelihoods while also delivering environmental targets going forward, according to the National Biodiversity Forum.

In a workshop convened by the forum, a group of scientists including some of Ireland’s leading academics have proposed six evidence-based ecological principles that can support the design and implementation of effective nature-based farming solutions.

The general principles can support stakeholders and policymakers as part of the formulation of Ireland’s new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Strategic Plan.

The six “CAP4Nature Principles” are:
  1. Farm for food security – biodiversity underpins the sustainable delivery of multiple ecosystem services that benefit society;
  2. Nature has limits – global trends indicate we are facing a mass extinction, and Ireland is similarly affected;
  3. Quantity, quality and connectivity matter – ecosystem type, condition and extent determine the services that are delivered in any one area;
  4. One size CAP doesn’t fit all – targeted interventions are essential to ensure ecosystem service delivery across the Irish landscape;
  5. Strengthen the links – strengthening links between people, producers and nature enhances benefits from nature and the reputation of Irish agricultural produce;
  6. Nature needs long-term but flexible planning – support for the natural processes that deliver beneficial ecosystem services requires long-term planning.

Given the climate and biodiversity emergency, and the economic challenges facing many of Ireland’s farmers, the development of a new national strategic plan to guide Ireland’s implementation of CAP presents a significant opportunity to achieve policy objectives and societal demands for healthy ecosystems and thriving rural economies.

Prof. Yvonne Buckley, chair of the National Biodiversity Forum and Chair of Zoology at Trinity College Dublin, said:

“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,” she added.

Biodiversity emergency

In Ireland, almost 80% of total expenditure (€1.1 billion) on biodiversity between 2010 and 2015 came from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Despite this investment, a 2019 national assessment of the status of EU-protected habitats and species revealed that agricultural practices negatively impact over 70% of habitats.

The assessment also revealed that 85% of 59 major habitat types are in unfavourable condition. Of this proportion, 39% are described as ‘bad’ and another 46% as ‘inadequate’, with 46% displaying ongoing declining trends.

The CAP4Nature principles and examples show that the impact of farming on biodiversity can be reduced.

At the same time, managing farmland for biodiversity can also increase water quality, carbon storage, soil health, pollinators and pest control. Agricultural payments that support nature could reward many or all of these benefits to agriculture and the wider society.