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: email@example.com
|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?
If you have any queries why not put it in our Forum on the website and allow other farmers to answer. See here.
|Everywhere!||Around now, you may begin to see the first queen bumblebees coming out of hibernation.
Now’s a good time to plan spaces where you are happy for vegetation to remain uncut during the flowering season – allowing a range of grasses, herbs and other plants to flower and seed.
|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 levels and fat reserves. She will spend the next several days searching for a nest location.
These are all good sources of food and shelter for pollinators and others, including predatory insects, which help protect crops. As you get the mower ready for its first outing, can you leave patches, strips or entire sections of the field, garden or the driveway to grow and attract pollinators?
|Bogs||Bogs in winter can seem desolate. However, life does go on: an early morning dew can reveal an intricate carpet of spiders webs, the weave stretching out across the wet bog under slanting winter sunlight.
|Beneath the surface these wet bogs are also busily absorbing and storing carbon as vegetation partially decays into peat. This is a slow process – it takes ten years for a single centimetre of peat to form, making peat a very precious resource!|
|Buildings & walls||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 methods are providing fewer and fewer homes for them.|
|Coastal farms||Machair is a Gaelic word that refers to low-lying, fertile coastal plains. This habitat supports an incredible array of wildlife, including birds, wildflowers and invertebrates. It is also one of rarest habitats in Europe – occurring only on the west coastlines of Ireland and Scotland.
Watch out for rock doves on rocky cliffs in remote areas.
|Machair thrives under light management and low intensity, traditional farming methods. To conserve this prized habitat –
DO: graze in winter but fence out livestock during the flowering season – May to August
DON’T: drain the land or apply chemical fertilisers
The rock dove is the wild ancestor of all feral and domesticated pigeons. The rock dove was originally domesticated as a source of food. The result of this domestication was the feral pigeon, which we commonly see in towns and cities today.
|Garden or farmyard||Male birds are beginning to strut about in their striking breeding plumage. They will soon start to sing to attract females and to mark out their breeding territories for the spring.||As winter food sources run low, hanging feeders for tits, finches and sparrows, and scattering some feed on the ground for blackbirds, thrushes and starlings can help birds to survive the ‘hungry gap’ before the spring.|
|Hedgerows||If you have goat or grey willow trees (‘sallies’), they are one of the first sources of pollen and nectar – vitally important for early queen bees.
The blackbird is an early breeder, building its first nest around now.
|Both species of willow grow in damp soil and have catkins or ‘pussy willows’ that produce pollen. The goat willow will also grow in rough ground in drier areas. Many people will have bad memories of the ‘sally rod’ from their school days but don’t let that put you off this important native plant!
Listen for the loud ‘alarm calls’ of the adult birds if you disturb them in the nesting season.
|Hill pasture||Should hill pasture have trees?||Historically, much of our upland landscapes would have been covered by a mosaic of trees, shrubs and grasslands. Many of the seeds of these ancient trees still lie dormant in the soil. Consider fencing off a small section of the hillside this spring (so that emerging saplings are not browsed by animals) and observe the natural regeneration of shrubs and trees over the coming years.|
|Pasture, meadows & field margins||The first dandelion flowers are showing – an important plant for insects in early spring.
|Dandelions provide vital food for bees and other early-flying insects such as butterflies. Later, when the flowers disappear, birds such as the goldfinch and greenfinch feast on the seed-heads.
The mushroom is the fruiting body of the fungus. Underground, the fungus comprises a complex network called mycelium. Mycelium is made up of tiny hair-like structures called hyphae. These hyphae can stretch through the soil for many metres (or even kilometres!), breaking down organic matter and returning nutrients to the soil. Tillage, fungicides and chemical fertilisers break up these fungal hyphae and inhibit the growth of healthy soil-enhancing mycelium.
|Ponds||Watch out for frogs becoming active after hibernation.||Creating a pond is a wonderful way to attract wildlife to your farm. If space is a problem, even a tiny (bathtub sized!) pond, in a quiet and shady spot, can attract a range of wildlife, including insects, amphibians, birds and mammals. Make sure your pond has gently sloping sides to allow wildlife to drink from the pond edge.|
|Streams & rivers||Springtime slurry applications will be happening now. Slurry can be a great resource if used properly, but it can be an environmental disaster if it’s thoughtlessly applied. Think about where, when and how you can use your slurry for optimal impact.
|Field margins and good riverside buffer strips really help to mitigate negative impacts from slurry – preventing excess nutrients from the slurry reaching watercourses. Such run-off can easily result in water pollution causing some plants and algae to take-over, robbing the oxygen from fish and other aquatic life. Avoid spreading if the weather isn’t suitable – a lot of your nutrients will just wash away. If possible, get a contractor who will spread your slurry using low-emission machines.
Good fencing may allow native vegetation to grow along the riverbank to stabilise it against erosion and absorb nutrient run-off. But if fencing off, remember to provide alternative drinking sources for livestock. Simple solutions may include pasture pumps or simple pipe-n-troughs.
|Tillage fields||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.|
|Wet or rough ground||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 colt’s-foot brighten up any day from February to April.|
|Woods||Female hazel flowers are in bloom – see if you can find some?||Female flowers are tiny, bud-like with red styles, designed to capture the clouds of pollen emitted by the yellow male catkins – resembling lamb’s tails – that appear before the leaves and hang in clusters from mid-February.|
|Further tips for our planet!|
|Climate||Long nights and housed livestock can mean higher energy usage through the winter.
||Consider installing solar or other renewable energy sources on farm. A shed roof can be the ideal place to install solar panels. There are also supports available for farmers interested in investing in on-farm energy sources.
Many fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides are manufactured using fossil fuel based products. Reducing such chemical inputs where possible will reduce the carbon footprint of the farm.
|Pollinators||Consider planting an herb bed this year.||Herb beds are not only great for seasoning a Sunday roast, but also provide a food source for bees and other pollinating insects. Pollinator friendly herbs include angelica, chives, fennel, mint, oregano, summer and winter savoury, thyme, and sage.|
|Water quality||Waste silage can cause significant harmful run-off.||As silage pits are emptied, make sure to collect any fallen or waste silage and store it with FYM.|
|Everywhere||Farm planning? Where are you concentrating your efforts on the farm? Are there less productive places (steep slopes, wetter areas etc.), which you could manage for nature? These ‘hare’s corners’ can provide vital refuges for wildlife, without hitting your farm outputs.||Where small areas of land can be taken out of intensive production, they should be managed extensively and not fertilised to increase the growth of wildflowers. These provide food for our pollinators and other insects, including those that help keep crop pests under control. A healthy diversity of nature and habitats on the farm can benefit agricultural productivity overall.|
|Bogs||Keep an eye out for breeding frogs||Breeding involves the male attaching himself to the female by holding on tight behind her forelegs, and not letting go until she’s laid her eggs!|
|Buildings & walls||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.|
|Coastal farms||March means it won’t be long before grass growth starts to pick up in earnest. It’s a good time of year to consider the habitats on your farm and how they can be protected from, or enhanced by, grazing livestock.
Between March and late autumn, basking sharks can be spotted from some coastal farms on the south, west and north coasts. The largest fish in the north Atlantic, the basking shark or ‘sun-fish’ is a gentle giant, travelling thousands of kilometres each year to feed on plankton.
|On coastal farms, machair, dune systems and salt marshes are all fragile ecosystems that will benefit from careful management, low inputs and light grazing pressure. Using temporary fencing to prevent overgrazing, restricting livestock access during the flowering season (June-August) and feeding and watering away from these areas (to reduce poaching) will help to maintain these fragile and valuable ecosystems.
Keep your eyes peeled for their huge tail fins as these giants bask near the surface of the water.
|Garden or farmyard||If possible, try to leave some of your 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 providing seeds for birds.|
|Hedgerows||Primrose sightings pick up in March – the first, fragrant ‘rose’, the prima rosa.
Your hedges may begin to show the first clouds of snow-white blackthorn flowers. These flowers appear even before the leaves do (unlike whitethorns whose leaves precede the flowers).
Some of the birds that winter in Ireland like the fieldfare and redwing will be leaving around now.
Many of the local birds like blackbird, robin, thrush and sparrows are really finding their voices. But the smaller tits and the wren are not to be out-sung with their strong calls coming through.
|Generally flowering best from April to May but can appear before the end of the old year in sheltered places.
Blackthorn also 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.
Fieldfare and redwing both breed at more northerly latitudes, including as far north as Scandinavia and Russia. Imagine the journeys that lie ahead of these tiny creatures!
|Hill pasture||In spring, hares 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 very 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 or heather.|
|Pasture, meadows & field margins||Carder bee queens, emerging from hibernation, will search for nesting sites at the base of grass tussocks.
|At the end of each summer, try to leave some patches of long, tussocky grass and tall wildflower seed heads to provide food and shelter in the hardest months for carder bees.
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.
|Ponds||Frogs produce their spawn from here on – thousands of black eggs enclosed in an envelope of jelly!||A useful way to monitor climate change at a local level – keep a note of when you first see frogspawn every year.|
|Streams & rivers||Lampreys spawn in spring and early summer, often in similar places to trout and salmon. Lampreys look a bit like eels… but they have no bones or scales and sport a single nostril on the top of their heads!||Three species of lamprey occur in Irish rivers. They are important ‘ecosystem engineers’ as their nest-building activities shape channels and create habitat for other species. Changing the flow patterns of rivers (including dredging, dams, weirs or channelisation) can devastate lamprey habitat – conserve the natural flow patterns of rivers on your land, and urge your neighbours to do the same!|
|Tillage fields||Many species of small mammals navigate farmland using a complex network of secret pathways, rarely emerging into the open. These pathways also exist in the air – with species such as bats and owls much more likely to follow hedgerows and field margins from the sky than to head out over open cropland.
While not many mushrooms are visible in March, their fungal hyphae are busy below ground, binding soil, improving drainage, and recycling nutrients.
|To encourage wildlife to use hedgerows, fallow plots, beetle banks and rough grassland on your farm, think about how you can connect these habitats up so that wildlife can easily move between them. For example, a short strip of hedgerow could be planted to connect two small pieces of woodland, making it easy for secretive woodland creatures to move between them!
Did you know a single cubic inch of soil can contain eight miles of entangled mycelium (fungal hyphae)? To protect this valuable resource, where possible, minimise tillage and chemical inputs – especially fungicides!
|Wet or rough ground||In damper grassland areas the cuckoo flower will be showing. It’s also knows as lady’s smock.||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, closely followed by the wood anemone – its white flowers complementing the celandine’s yellows.||Competition time – what’s your first wildflower of the year? Shady areas are a good place to search as flowers try to avail of the open canopy before the leaves fill in and shade them out.|
|Further tips for our planet!|
|Climate||With DAFM paperwork deadlines beginning to loom, have you considered going organic?||Organic farming prohibits the use of many petroleum-based chemical inputs. As such organic farming is not only good for soil, water and food, but reduces the farming footprint too!|
|Pollinators||Can you provide some of the bumblebee’s favourite food plants?
Also, keep an eye out for the grey mining bee, a black bee with two grey bands around its middle. It emerges out of hibernation in March and begins searching for some bare earth in which to make a burrow and lay its eggs.
|In March, these include willow, dandelion, lungwort, rosemary and heather.
‘Bee scrapes’ or man-made bare patches of earth on a ditch or in a field corner can provide great habitat for the grey mining bee and other solitary bee species seeking to dig these little burrows for their nests.
|Water quality||Did you know that soil temperatures affect the rate of absorption of nutrients?||To maximise absorption of inputs, and minimise harmful run-off, spread fertiliser and FYM on warmer days (soil temp at least 6°C)
|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.
|Bogs||Heathers are native to Ireland and are an important source of food for sheep grazed on Irish bogland.||Keep a lookout for bog rosemary towards the end of the month – this is the first of the heathers to come into flower|
|Buildings & walls||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. If mess is an issue, attach a piece of wood below the nesting site to catch droppings – make sure to do this before the swallows arrive as interfering with the nest site later could disturb the nesting pair. Once they are nesting, make sure to leave the way in and out open at all times – swallow chicks need feeding every 20 minutes from dawn to dusk!!|
|Coastal farms||Watch the skies for terns, which return to Irish shores to breed in the warmer months.||The aerial antics and forked tails of tern species have earned them the nickname ‘sea-swallows’. These ‘sea-swallows’ can live for up to 25-30 years, during which time they travel more than 3 million kilometres!|
|Garden or farmyard||Want to help pollinators? Now’s the time to sow pollinator friendly flowers in the garden, or to allow some space where native flowers will naturally emerge. Some farmers are also sowing large patches (the colour of it!) along their drives.||Why not sow a few pollinator friendly flowers along with your vegetables? Borage and calendula work well, although make sure any non-native plants don’t take over and escape outside the garden!|
|Hedgerows||Hawthorn (whitethorn/mayflower) is in full blossom.
With its beautiful blossom and a bounty of bright red fruits the wild cherry is one of our prettiest native trees.
|In April, hedgerows turn the Irish landscape into a picture postcard with their riot of white flowers. Blackthorn and hawthorn can often be confused. 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.
Birds play a role in the tree’s propagation by eating the cherries and dispersing the seed.
|Hill pasture||The wheatear will be arriving back on its summer breeding grounds.||Look out for the white rump of this attractive little bird.|
|Pasture, meadows & field margins||Consider leaving an area adjacent to a hedgerow to let native wildflowers grow.
As silage season begins, think about how you might reduce silage effluent this year
|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.
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.
A greater diversity of habitats, and a greater diversity of species therein, will host a richer fauna. Even the soft rush provides the food plant of day-flying moth species.
Silage effluent pollutes watercourses. If you wilt the grass prior to ensiling (i.e. increase the dry-matter content), this will reduce the effluent produced.
|Ponds||Tadpoles hatch and grow from April to May||How many will survive to full grown frogs?|
|Streams & rivers||Flag irises are hardy native perennials that stand tall around streams, rivers and wetlands in spring and summer. Watch out for their spear-like green foliage shooting up around now, to be topped by striking yellow flowers a little later in the year.||Try to maintain diversity of plant life along the borders of streams and rivers – this is great for wildlife and the different root lengths and structures will help to stabilise the river banks during floods.|
|Tillage fields||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.
|Just a metre-wide grass strip between the outer edge of the hedge and the crop edge can benefit wildlife in many ways.
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.
|Wet or rough ground||Did you know swallows need over 1000 mouthfuls of wet mud to build their nests?||Creating patches of wet ground with some soft mud in April (e.g. a tractor mark or a muddy puddle on the yard) can provide an ideal place for swallows to harvest these precious mouthfuls. If you watch carefully, you may see them carefully dipping dry grasses into the wet mud – nature’s glue!
|Woods||Bluebells are starting to raise their heads.
Spring days are often accompanied by the sound of the chainsaw across the Irish landscape! Longer days and better weather tempt us out to ‘tidy up’ after the winter. However, leaving dead wood to stand or lie is crucial to providing habitat for a whole host of species of fungi.
|Bluebells take over five years to flower from seed, which means it takes some time for whole woodland floors to be colonised by this pretty purple flower.
Where possible, retain dead wood on site. Fallen trees can be moved and used for erosion control, or placed around emerging trees as protection from grazing animals. Snags (the stumps of old trees) can be left standing in hedgerows or woodlands to provide habitat for a host of birds, insects and fungi.
|Further tips for our planet!|
|Climate||Have you considered an agro-forestry system?||Agroforestry or silvopasture can be used to build a climate resilient farm system. Many combinations are possible, from simply providing extra food for livestock by planting edible trees, to multi-cropping cash crops with fruit trees, to running pigs and poultry amongst a timber crop. The more diverse the system, the more resilient it will be to increased droughts or floods – and the diversity is great for wildlife too!|
|Pollinators||Look out for the red haired tawny mining bee, which emerges from hibernation in April||On a sunny day, why not try the All Ireland Pollinator Plan ’10 minute timed flower count’? It’s a great way to learn more about which pollinators are visiting your farm, while also contributing towards conservation research as a citizen scientist. Have a look at www.pollinators.ie for more info and detailed video instructions!|
|Water quality||If you are using chemical fertilisers, have you made the switch to protected urea?||Nitrogen fertilisers move freely through the soil. As such, they are very susceptible to leaching into watercourses. This fertiliser run-off is harmful to the environment, as well as being expensive for farmers. Protected urea converts nitrogen to an ammonium form, which is less prone to leaching and which is then slowly released to plants as nitrogen. As a result, it’s both better for nature and less wasteful for the farmer|
|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
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.
Add species diversity to your sward.
Farming For Nature Offers Best Practice Guidelines and Actions to take on different land types here.
This is body of work is supported by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Marine, and National Park & Wildlife Service.