• Overview

    Biodiversity can be defined in many ways – species, habitats or ecosystems – but essentially, it’s a word to describe the many varieties of lifeforms on earth. At Farm Zero C we are mapping habitat on farmland, so when we refer to biodiversity we are referring to both the amount of habitat on a farm and the number of different habitat types that the amount is composed of. A farm with a large area of habitat composed of many different habitat types (woodland, hedgerow, wetland, bog, ditches, scrub) is more biodiverse than a farm with a smaller area of habitat composed of fewer habitat types (e.g. just hedgerow).

    bio diversity farm content

    Biodiversity and Agricultural Fields

    Intensively managed agricultural fields are not typically counted as natural habitats. The typical intensive pasture in Ireland is composed of ryegrass (Lolium perenne), a grass species that performs well under high fertilisation. These swards are very poor in biodiversity, as they only contain one species and so they aren’t counted as natural habitat. Ryegrass-clover swards, whether red (Trifolium arvensis) or white (Trifolium repens), are a good way to reduce the input of chemical nitrogen, and are more biodiverse swards as they contain an additional species, yet clover is an agronomic species with little conservation value and as such clover-ryegrass swards are not counted as a natural habitat. Multi-species swards are more biodiverse yet again, containing additional species such as plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and chicory (Cichorium intybus), yet these are still intensively managed fields that can not be considered a natural habitat.

    However, the clover and multi-species swards may be beneficial for biodiversity. The more complex rooting system of clover, plantain and chicory could increase the diversity of soil organisms, while the more complex sward could increase the number of insects and subsequently bird populations. At Farm Zero C, we are investigating the effect of clover swards and multi-species swards on pollinators, measuring the increase in floral abundance compared to ryegrass pasture and determining whether this increases the floral resources available to pollinators. The clover and multi-species swards may act as mass flowering crops such as oil seed rape, providing an abundance of floral resources periodically throughout the season.


    Research at Farm Zero C 

    • Habitat mapping tool – we are training a model to classify high-resolution satellite imagery into habitat maps from which we can measure the percentage of habitat on farms – find out more here.
    • Demonstrating that Shinagh Dairy Farm can have 10% of the farm as a natural habitat, meeting the EU’s 2030 Biodiversity Strategy target and demonstrating that profitable dairy farms can be biodiverse without compromising on production.
    • Assessment of the floral resources provided by clover and multi-species swards compared to traditional intensive ryegrass swards.
    • Measuring the impact of newly created farmland habitats on plants and pollinators.
    • Determining whether habitat quality assessments can be carried out using LiDAR and photogrammetry.
    • Developing a habitat recommendation tool that will suggest the best areas to place habitats on a farm.

    For more information on the biodiversity research taking place at Farm Zero C contact Cian White at ciwhite@tcd.ie

    Other research 

    The following links provide more information on various projects and initiatives on biodiversity research.

    • e-planner is a habitat opportunities tool from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the UK that recommends best places to create new habitats.
    • Farm Environmental Survey is an ongoing project by the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine that is carrying out habitat mapping of hundreds of farms across the country.
    • National Landcover Map is a habitat map for the whole country produced using very high-resolution aerial imagery from 2018. Map is expected to be released in the coming months
    • Bride project (Biodiversity Regeneration in Dairying Environment) is an innovative agri-environmental project based in the River Bride catchment in Cork. Have implemented a results-based approach to encourage farmers to increase and improve the biodiversity on dairy farms.
    • Farming for Nature is a forum for farmers to ask questions and share information around farming for nature.

    Protecting Farmland Pollinators is a results-based programme that is developing methods to increase pollinators on farmland and reward those farmers who score best.


    The following policies and regulations are in support of increased biodiversity on farms.

    EU Biodiversity strategy for 2030– This comprehensive long-term plan for protecting nature and reversing the degradation of ecosystems aims to put Europe’s biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030  and increased ecosystem resilience with benefits for people, the climate and the planet.

    The Irish National Biodiversity Action Plan 2017-2021–  The action plan demonstrates Ireland’s continuing commitment to meet its obligations to biodiversity. Key actions from the plan are to ensure that biodiversity and ecosystems are preserved and Ireland takes necessary steps to halt biodiversity loss.

    The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) – The CAP is the agricultural policy of the EU which  promotes sustainable agricultural systems in the EU, enabling farmers to provide food in a sustainable manner, earn a decent income and “protect natural resources, enhance biodiversity and contribute to the fight against climate change.” The CAP promotes biodiversity  through Pillar 1 & Pillar 2. The structure of the new CAP below shows how biodiversity is supported in the CAP.

    Pillar One

    Income support through direct payments remunerates farmers for environmentally friendly farming and delivering public goods. The following are supported under Pillar One of the current CAP.

    •  Good Agricultural Conditions (GAEC) e.g Protecting wetlands and habitats
    •  New cross compliance of 4% habitat
    •  Eco-scheme 7% target
    •  10% for two Eco-schemes

    Pillar Two

    Under Pillar Two, there is the Preservation of farming practices that have a beneficial effect on the environment and climate and foster the necessary changes (agri-environment climate measures). These measures have to be included in rural development programs. Biodiversity is supported under “Acres – General and Specific”

    Farmers who receive support from the CAP should comply with the following rules:

    •  May not cut hedge during the closed season (1st March to 31st of August) except where there is a road safety issue.
    •  Cannot remove landscape features without permission( hedge, treeline, etc). When removed, the farm has to replace the hedge with a new hedge that is longer to compensate.