Spring (February-April)

SPRING (February-April)

Here is a season by season guide to spotting different nature & wildlife on your farm.

It is just a start, we need your help to build it up – please send in your ideas and help us create a rich calendar for what is on the farm and practical notes on how to enhance it: info@farmingfornature.ie

View and download the April guide here

 

NOTICING NATURE – AND SOME WAYS TO HELP IT! ADDITIONAL PRACTICAL NOTES
  INTRO As the farming year unfolds, are you keeping your eye out for what wildlife appears on your farm?

What flower or bird brings you joy as the seasons change?

What can you look forward to appearing this month?

What wildlife might be on your land?

What more can you do to encourage it and enhance it?

Here is a month by month guide to help you farm for nature!

This is just a start – please help us create a rich calendar to celebrate and support farming for nature!

What have we forgotten?

Do you have any useful ‘nature hacks’ to share?
Let us know on info@farmingfornature.ie

If you have any queries why not put it in our Forum on the website and allow other farmers to answer.  See here.

FEB Hedges You may begin  to see the first queen bumblebees coming out of hibernation. The queen bee emerges from the hole in the ground in which she has been hibernating all winter. Right away, she needs to find nectar and pollen to replenish her energy level and fat reserves. She will spend the next several days searching for a nest location.
Hedges If you have Goat or Grey Willow (‘sallies’) they are one of the first sources of pollen and nectar – vitally important for early queen bees. Both species of Willow grow in damp soil and have catkins or ‘pussy willows’ that produce seeds. The goat willow will also grow in rough ground in drier areas.
Buildings Time to put up a few specialist bird boxes – for birds like the Swift. Put up swift boxes well before May when the birds return to Ireland. They like the eaves of buildings and return to the same spot to breed each year. Modern construction is providing less and less homes for them.
Woods Female Hazel flowers are in bloom – see if you can find some? Female flowers are tiny, bud-like with red styles. The yellow male catkins – resembling lamb’s tails – appear before the leaves and hang in clusters from mid-February.
Ditches

Streams

Rivers

Springtime slurry applications will be happening now, but we need to think about keeping the nature in these parts of the farm safe too. Field margins and good riverside buffer strips really help – holding back nutrients from the slurry reaching water courses. These can too easily result in water pollution causing some plants and algae to thrive but also robbing the oxygen from the fish and the many other creatures.
Pasture One of our earliest flowers the Colt’s-foot will be showing now. One of the first flowers to poke its head up before the end of winter, the tough little yellow blooms of the perennial, the Colt’s-foot, brighten up any day from February to April.
Ditches

Streams

Rivers

Fence off watercourses to prevent bank erosion Animals will need alternative drinking sources – for example a ‘nose-pump’ into the stream/river?.

Allow native vegetation to grow along the riverbank to stabilise it against erosion.

Hedges The Blackbird is an early breeder, building its first nest around now. Listen for the loud ‘alarm calls’ of the adult birds if you disturb them in the nesting season.
Pasture The first Dandelion flowers are showing – an important plant for insects in early spring. Provides vital food for bees and other early-flying insects such as butterflies. Later, when the flowers disappear, birds feast on the seed-heads. Dandelion seed is a favourite with birds such as the Goldfinch and Greenfinch.
Everywhere Now’s a good time to be planning spaces that you are happy for vegetation to remain uncut – allowing a range of grasses, herbs and other plants to flower and seed. These are all good sources of food for pollinators and others.  As you get the mower ready for its first outing, can you leave patches, strips or entire sections of the garden or the driveway to grow and attract pollinators?
Tillage Fallow plots for ground nesting birds like the Lapwing need to be harrowed in February or early March to create a rough bare surface for birds to nest. Fallow plots are areas with short or limited vegetation, providing suitable conditions for birds like the Lapwing. They can be created by ploughing in autumn and leaving alone over winter, or by harrowing in February or early March.
MAR Ponds Frogs produce thousands of black eggs enclosed in an envelope of jelly. When’s the earliest that frog spawn has been seen on your farm?
Hedges Primrose sightings pick up in March Generally flowering best from April to May but can appear before the end of the old year in sheltered places.
Pasture Carder bee queens, emerging from hibernation, will search for nesting sites at the base of grass tussocks. At the end of each summer, why not leave some patches of long tussocky grass and tall wildflower seed heads to provide food and shelter in hardest months in preparation for them.
Hill

Pasture

In spring Hares often come together for courtship and there is a higher chance of seeing these otherwise elusive animals. The Irish Hare is unique to the island of Ireland. The best opportunity to see Hares is likely to be early morning or at dusk during springtime. Their courtship is energetic with ‘boxing’, kicking and lots of leaping around. They live above ground and settle/rest in ‘forms’ which are shallow depressions in dense vegetation such as tall grass, rushes, heather.
Hedge Your hedges may begin to show the first clouds of snow-white Blackthorn flowers. A great hedging plant but also providing a fabulous – albeit short lived – display too. Blackthorn provides a valuable source of nectar and pollen for bees in spring. Its foliage is a food plant for the caterpillars of many moths and is used by the black and brown hairstreak butterflies. Birds nest among the dense, thorny thickets, eat caterpillars and other insects from the leaves, and feast on the sloes in autumn.
Garden If possible, try to leave some of the winter vegetables go to seed rather than pulling them when they are finished cropping. Brussel Sprouts, Curly Kale or Leeks give some very early flowers, loved by the pollinators, as well as seeds for birds.
Pasture Grassland areas for wildflowers should have livestock excluded from March/April to late summer. Fence off or reduce stocking density in certain areas to let taller grass grow and for longer into the season. Ideally, allow wildflowers to bloom throughout spring and early summer and fungi to fruit in late summer and autumn.
  Farm planning? Where are you concentrating your effort on the farm? Are there places (steep slopes, wetter areas etc.) which you could manage for nature? Where small areas of land can be taken out of intensive production, they should be left unfertilised to increase the growth of wildflowers. These provide food for our pollinators and other insects, including those that help keep crop pests under control. Nature and habitats on the farm can benefit agricultural productivity overall.
Hedges Some of the birds that winter in Ireland like the Fieldfare and Redwing will be leaving around now. These birds breed at more northerly latitudes, including in Scandinavia and Russia.
Pasture In damper grassland areas the Cuckoo Flower will be showing. This is the food plant for the well named Orange-tip butterfly (which appears from April onwards).
Woods The Lesser Celandine is one of the first flowers to open on the woodland floor in early Spring. Competition time – what’s your first wildflower of the year?
Buildings Warmer evenings will see bats emerging. Bats use a wide variety of structures to roost in as their requirements change throughout the year. Roosts are needed for different activities – hibernation roosts and maternity roosts – these are all needed at different times of the year. Different bat species choose different structures for different activities. Many farms have these types of features, so it is important to be aware of their importance for bats. Many buildings on farms can provide important roosts for bats, particularly large stone buildings with slate roofs and large, open roof voids.  It’s really good to get advice before changing any of these structures if you think bats are using them.
APR Ponds Tadpoles hatch and grow from April to May How many will survive to full grown frogs?
Garden Want to help pollinators? Now’s the time to sow pollinator friendly flowers in the garden. Some farmers are also sowing large patches (the colour of it!) alongside their drives. Why not sow a few pollinator friendly flowers along with your vegetables? Borage and calendula work well. For larger volumes ask your seed merchant.
Hedges Hawthorn (Whitethorn/Mayflower) in full blossom. In April, hedgerows turn the Irish landscape into a picture postcard with their riot of white flowers. Can be confused with blackthorn when without leaves. The flowers of Blackthorn appear before the leaves, and the spines have buds along their length, while on Hawthorn the flowers emerge from the same point as the buds.
Buildings Swallows (also called ‘barn swallows’) will be back soon. Allow swallows to nest freely in the building eaves of farm buildings, leaving spaces for them to fly in and out.
Grasslands Consider leaving an area adjacent to a hedgerow to let native wildflowers grow. Fence off an area from April-September just to see what is there? Then let the cattle in the area to graze, compact, fertilize and lightly poach (helps germination of seeds) the ground.
Tillage Consider leaving an area: a margin, field corner or a plot within the crop to let native wildflowers grow. Select areas carefully to ensure they encourage less competitive arable plants and do not become infested with grass weeds.

 

Just a metre-wide grass strip between the outer edge of the hedge and the crop edge can benefit wildlife in many ways.

Margins can provide nest sites for ground-nesting birds

A tussocky grass strip against a short thick hedge provides an ideal habitat for ground-nesting bird species such as Grey Partridges, Whitethroats and Yellowhammers.

Hedges With its beautiful blossom and a bounty of bright red fruits the wild cherry is one of our prettiest native trees. Birds play a role in the tree’s propagation by eating the cherries and dispersing the seed.
Pasture The wild grasses: Cocksfoot, Meadow Foxtail, Timothy and Yorkshire Fog are flowering well now. Reducing grassland management intensity can rapidly increase the variety of grassland plant species helping restore biodiversity. Newer information also suggests this can limit carbon loss from soil and improve soil structure.
Woods First leaves are showing on both the pedunculate and the sessile Oak (the two native species of Oak) Have you heard the rhyme? ‘If the oak before the ash, then we’ll only have a splash. If the ash before the oak, then we’ll surely have a soak’!
Woods In older woodlands Bluebells can provide magnificent shows of colour. If you have Bluebells in your wood, can you identify them as the native one or the Spanish one?
Pasture Dung beetles are a very valuable asset on a farm. The dung beetles are most active just as the weather starts to warm up. Dung beetles drawpieces of the dung underground and help dispose of parasites. Their lifecycle can be affected by certain treatments. If you dose your livestock, dose individually where possible rather than blanket dose, or do it while the animals are still housed and keep them in for a few more days.
Hill The Wheatear will bearriving back on its summer breeding grounds. Look out for the white rump of this attractive little bird.
Everywhere! Care for your soil. It is the basis of everything for your farming produce and productivity. Among the many benefits are:

Improved soil aggregate stability

Better infiltration

Crop and grassland resilience (to drought/flood)

Reduced weed pressure

Adherence to Statutory Management Requirements

Avoidance of pollution issues

 

Do not leave soil exposed or susceptible to erosion.

Avoid poaching, pinch-points, trafficking and rutting.

Nurture the soil and build humus – give back (healthy) nutrients.

Minimise tillage.

Add species diversity to your sward.

Farming For Nature Offers Best Practice Guidelines and Actions to take on different land types here.


To investigate what native species you have or could encourage on your land
t
here are plenty of sources to help:

  • For native flowers – you can search by flowering month, colour or habitat go here
  • For native trees see here – it will give you advice on different trees go here
  • For native birds see here
  • For native butterflies see here
  • For a complete breakdown of all Irish species, the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC) is the key source. See here.
  • Join the NBDC Farmers Wildlife Calendar Climate Tracker by recording and submitting your farmland species here.

This is body of work is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Marine, and National Park & Wildlife Service.

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