Ireland needs less drainage, not more, according to the Irish Wildlife Trust to achieve sustainable agriculture.

Pádraic Fogarty, Campaigns Officer, Irish Wildlife Trust, said with Ireland advertising itself as a ‘Green Food Island’ and a harbour of sustainable food production, it needs to take environmental sustainability seriously.

He said investing in environmental protection is “a bit like putting money into an insurance scheme, providing a buffer against uncertain changes that arise from events such as flooding or droughts.” However, he warned that with agricultural output set to intensify under the Food Harvest 2020 plan, commensurate changes to farm practices to improve environmental quality are not built into this strategy.

“The quality of our high value habitats and species is declining and we have international obligations to reverse this trend. Meanwhile improving the quality of our water in intensively farmed catchments is going to be a major challenge. Less drainage, and more space on farms for nature (in its broadest sense), even on intensively managed farms, can help us meet all these aims. Properly managed hedgerows, small wetlands and woods, and better buffer zones along water courses all slow the flow of water off the land – thereby ameliorating the highs and lows of flood and drought. Implementing EU Directives has generally been seen as a threat to the food production industry however if we are going to take sustainability seriously then we need to embrace them and the opportunities they provide. We could start by filling in some drains.” 

According to the Wildlife Trust, nearly a third of Irish grasslands have poorly drained soil that impedes grass growth. He said the thinking to accelerate the flow of water off the land to improve grass and other crop yields is still very much in evidence, but as a country we are running into a number of barriers that should be forcing us into a rethink. The first is our changing climate.“Temperatures are rising and even if there was a concerted global effort to address greenhouse gas emissions this is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The Environmental Protection Agency predicts that this will result in more frequent and more intense rainfall events, an increased likelihood of river and coastal flooding, and prolonged summer water shortages with a subsequent need for crop irrigation. In the last number of years alone there has been summer and winter flooding, as well as a fodder crises due to lack of grass growth.”