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: firstname.lastname@example.org
|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.
|MAY||Hedges||Primrose flowering is peaking around now.||Its relative the ‘Cowslip’ flowers in more open (less shaded) places – look out also for the ‘false oxslip’ – a cross between the primrose and cowslip.|
|Woods||For early risers, the dawn chorus will be in full flow now.||At its best, the dawn chorus is surely one of the greatest things to enjoy on a nice early summer’s morning. Birds are busy finding mates, building nests and some will be feeding young.|
|Cuckoo calling is in full flow||‘The Cuckoo comes in April, she sings her song in May, in June she changes her tune, and in July she flies away’. It may come as a surprise to those who can still hear the Cuckoo locally, that it no longer calls in many parts of Ireland due to habitat loss. Cherish what you have locally. It is a link to what our grandparent’s would have experienced in the countryside.|
|Grasslands or tillage margins||At about the same time as the cuckoo arrives in Ireland in April/May the abundance of flowers in any less intensively managed fields really increases. Take a moment and check out the number and type of flowers appearing.||Many of these flowers/weeds are a reflection of how the land is been managed. Some may be used as indicators of compaction, or soil acidity. The dandelion and the dock have tap roots to break up compaction and to also bring up nutrients from below. Research is ongoing to establish the linkages between the above ground biodiversity and the below ground diversity and the positive impact on nutrient access for plants (and grassland productivity and resilience). It is important to consider leaving areas of pasture un-topped so that the thistle, yarrow, self- heal, plantains and others can be a source of nectar and then also seeds for some bird species such as the finches.|
|Buildings||Swifts are returning to nest in old buildings especially roof spaces.||Make sure to seek advice before you undertake any changes/renovations. Either way try to avoid the nesting season.|
|Wet Ground||Look out for Yellow flags and native hogweed.||Pollinators love hogweed|
|Garden||Sow Nasturtiums as a decoy for white butterflies.||The flowers are also edible in salads.|
|The fluffy cotton grass (bog cotton) is in ‘flower’.||The ‘flowers’ are in fact hairy fruits that follow the earlier brown clusters of flowers.|
|Hedges||The Willow warbler, Chiff-chaff and the Blackcap are back and letting everyone know about it, filling the field boundaries with life and sound.||These birds that winter in Africa come back to our hedgerow trees as they flower.|
|Pasture||Moths and butterflies will be abundant in any fields with a diverse mix of grasses.||Even the soft rush provides the food plant of day flying moth species.|
|Hedges||Bees and hoverflies are coming to pollinate flowers in your hedgerows and along your grassy verges.||Have you ever sat for a moment and watched these insects working away for their pollen?|
|Tillage||A really nature-rich farmed habitat can be created by sowing say a hectare of wild bird cover around now.||Agri-environment schemes will usually help with the costs. The crop is left un-harvested over winter providing seed sources for the birds.|
|Listen out for Reed Buntings calling (a short “ziu”) especially along stream margins and other wet vegetation.||These wetland birds have over recent years spread into farmland. Sparrow-sized, the male has a black head, white collar and a drooping moustache.|
|Pasture||Early varieties of Red clover are flowering.||Clovers are the cornerstone of organic farming and the engine that drives productivity. In contrast to white clover, red clover has an upright growth habit and a strong deep root. All kinds of bumblebees love their nectar, if they are allowed to flower.|
|Pasture||First cuts of silage are being taken – is there a chance for you to leave a 100m by 4m uncut strip along a field margin? Can some fields be managed for later cuts or hay?||These techniques aim to help provide bees and other pollinators with the continuous supply of flowers they require to forage on. During first or second silage cuts, leave one margin or headland uncut. Follow this by cropping the previously uncut area and leaving a different area uncut.|
|Tillage||Can you spot Sparrows, Blue Tits etc. eating aphids off the crops?||There are many natural predators to the ‘pests’ out there. So before spraying, see if nature is doing her job in helping you grow your crops. The common wasp is a predator of aphids and should not be persecuted. Ladybirds, lacewings and earwigs are among others that do the job as well.|
|Hill||Gorse (furze, whins) is in flower….||…and love is in the air (well it flowers most of the year!). This is one of the most beautiful smells of the countryside, like a perfume. It is of great importance to spiders and songbirds and can provide shelter for stock as well as young oaks and ash.|
|JUNE||Pond||Froglets are leaving the pond in June/July||Where do they all go? How many will make it to adulthood?|
|Bog||Look out for the star-shaped, pink/white flowers (an inch or so across) of the Bogbean.||Found in shallow ponds, fens, bogs and marshes. It is so-named because its leaves look like those of broad beans.|
|Pond||Any sign of Pond skaters, Water boatman or Damselflies in your water areas?||Pond skaters are often seen in groups, they ‘skate’ around on the surface of the water in ponds, lakes, ditches and slow-flowing rivers, feeding on smaller insects which they stab with their sharp mouthparts or ‘beaks’.|
|Hedges||The Honeysuckle begins to flower. The smell of it!||Honeysuckle is a rich such of nectar for many insects, which will keep the bird populations healthy. Just before flowering is a good time to take cuttings and try to propagate new plants for transplanting around the farm.|
|Pasture||The Meadow Thistle will begin flowering now in wetter grasslands.||Ireland is really important for this plant. Together with Britain we hold more than half the world’s population. Light grazing in early summer followed by heavier in late summer will really look after this plant of wetter farm habitats.|
|Garden||Leave a sunlit patch of Nettles for bees, butterflies and hoverflies.||Nettles are a food plant for lots of butterfly caterpillars (e.g. Red Admiral, Peacock, Comma and more).|
|Hedges||As the summer rolls on, can you see Foxgloves in your hedgerows?||Be warned, foxgloves only flower every other year so don’t be disappointed if they don’t show in this one!|
|Hill||The Skylark is best heard in early summer making its distinctive call lasting up to half an hour.||The song is usually given while the bird is flying 50 to 100 metres overhead. Although hill ground is well used the skylark also likes tillage fields. They can also be in grassland. The nest can be destroyed by topping or mowing if not careful.|
|Where grazing is suitable, it is important to only graze with the amount of livestock that the bog/ peatland can support.||Overgrazing, poaching and erosion can reduce the ability of the hill or peatland to support wildlife (and livestock….). Always check recommended stocking levels (often around 1 sheep per hectare) to allow them to be grazed successfully. If feeding rings are present, moving them frequently can prevent poaching and nutrient enrichment.|
|The Rhododendron is in flower. A well-known sight, particularly in the west of Ireland, unfortunatey this non-native invasive species is ecologically damaging. It can be a real thug on hills & bog.||While it’s pretty to look at, forming dense thickets it can smother the ground and suppress native flowers. This invasive species has colonised lots of land. Farmers in many places are working to control or remove rhododendron using methods developed in Killarney National Park.|
|Look out for Himalayan Balsalm – a light pink coloured flower. It is non-native and invasive and can destabilise river banks.||Himalayan Balsalm is one of several non-native invasive plants that can cause environmental and economic damage. Can you get advice on managing these.|
|JUL||Hedge||The fruits of the Crab Apples, Sloe, and the different Rose species are maturing.||This natural bounty is thanks to the pollinators having done their job in spring.|
|Pasture||In the more diverse grasslands, the blue-purple Devil’s-Bit Scabious flowers around now.||The story goes that Devil’s Bit Scabious received its name because the plant contained so many cures that it angered the Devil and he cut the roots short (it looks blunt).|
|Pasture||Manage your wet grasslands carefully, light grazing from here on may be worthwhile if underfoot conditions allow.||These will be important for lots of biodiversity including charismatic breeding ‘wading birds’ such as lapwing, snipe and curlew and their young. Where drains have been used in the past it will really help if these can be blocked.|
|Pasture||In the later summer Meadowsweet is starting to flower near streams or in wet grasslands.||Its creamy flowers look like feathers in the wind. It has a distinct strong smell which attracts insects (it smells of almonds!).|
|Pasture||Another damp-loving, sweet-smelling plant that starts flowering in July is Wild Angelica.||Look for its umbrella-like clusters of pink-tinged white flowers in wet grasslands and woods.|
|Summer evenings are the best time to come across Hedgehogs.||Snuffling and grunting like a pig the hedgehog is out and about looking for food. They can travel 1 to 2 km each night in search of food which includes earthworms, beetles, spiders and slugs.|
|Hill||Have a closer look and see what your stone walls are growing – ferns like Hart’s Tongue or Maidenhair, and the pink flowers of Herb Robert, mosses and lichens.||Walls can also provide homes for bird nests, cavity-nesting bees and our only lizard, the Common Lizard.|
|Pasture||Keep your ears open for the shy secretive (but noisy) Corncrake in any old-fashioned hay meadows.||Once common, this is a really rare bird now. Its hanging on in a few places (e.g. Mayo) with some farmers really working hard to give it a better future.|
|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 Parks & Wildlife Service.