Wetland ecosystems rely on water, with a lot of wildlife is dependent on them. They cover almost 15% of Ireland and include rivers, streams and even drainage ditches; also peatlands (fens, raised and blanket bogs), loughs and turloughs (temporary or seasonal loughs or fields – depending on your viewpoint) and ponds.
Protecting wetlands is a great way to encourage and support biodiversity on your farm.
Wetlands functions include:
- Providing key habitats for wetland plants and animals.
- Maintaining and even improving water quality.
- Mitigating against and managing floods.
- Storing Carbon for climate change mitigation.
- Key features of the landscape: open water, seasonal colours of wetland vegetation.
Creating Buffer Zones
Pollution from farming can damage wetlands. It is vital to stop fertilisers, slurry, pesticides and herbicides from reaching nearby water bodies and courses.
Grassland Buffer Zones
- To diminish the likelihood of pollution entering the water, allow a buffer zone of wetland vegetation to grow by the side of rivers, streams and ditches. This can be done by fencing these areas off from grazers.
- Buffer zones of at least 3m should be used for rivers and 2m for streams and ditches. However, the larger the buffer strip the more effective it will be at preventing pollution so create bigger buffers if you have the space.
- In the first summer cut as needed when the grasses reach 10cm to encourage tussocks to form. After the first year cut sections on a 3-year rotation to ensure there are undisturbed sections for wildlife.
- These buffers will provide a habitat for many beneficial insects and nesting sites for birds.
Arable Buffer Zones
- Farm ponds on an arable farm should have a buffer of at least 2m but ideally up to 10m from cropland.
- Fence off land adjacent to ponds and watercourses; allow wetland plants to colonise the area naturally.
Managing Shade Levels
- The ideal location for a new pond is in an open, sunny spot in a grassland away from any water pollution threats and near to other natural habitats.
- In larger ponds, some shade can benefit fish. To prevent them casting too much shade plant trees on the north side of the pond.
- If creating a new pond, do not introduce fish; they eat frog eggs and insect larvae, limiting the pond’s diversity.
- If you wish to reduce dominant vegetation such as scrub or bulrush (reed mace) do so in small segments on rotation in late autumn/ early winter. Minimise disturbance as much as possible; frogs, newts and insects may be hibernating in the muddy pond bottom.
In relation to ponds its good to see where your water supply is coming from. I also have outlets on the ponds. This means you can decide final level of water in the pond. It might go down if things dry up but it will not overflow in an uncontrolled manner as this could cause a side of pond to wash away.
Tommy Earley, FFN Ambassador 2019
Rivers, Streams, Drainage Ditches
- Keeping small areas of shade from trees or other plants is important to fish and other aquatic animals to prevent the water getting too hot. However, avoid too much shade as this prevents light from reaching aquatic plants.
- As with ponds, only taller plants to the northern banks to allow light to reach the river.
- Bankside vegetation stabilises river banks and helps prevent erosion. If possible, leave these areas undisturbed to allow plants to grow there.
- If management is needed, it is best done in the autumn or winter on a rotational basis. This leaves undisturbed sections of riverbank for wildlife.
Managing Pond Shape
- An irregular kidney shaped pond has more benefit to wildlife as there are more areas for micro-habitats along its curving edges.
- A pond with shallowly sloping edges allows wildlife such as hedgehogs to escape if they fall in so try add at least one shallow slope to your pond.
- Having a varied depth with one deep section and shallower edges creates habitat for pond vegetation at the edges and other aquatic species in the deeper section. Any excavation work to alter the pond shape should be done in autumn, and preferably in smaller segments over a few years to minimise disturbance.
Managing Pond Siltation
- Siltation occurs when too much silt builds up and chokes out aquatic vegetation. Excess silt can be removed from ponds between September and November. This should be done in small sections over a 3-4-year rotation.
- Try and minimise the use of heavy machinery in winter as this can compact the soil.
Watch out for invasive species
- Invasive species can find their way into your watercourse or pond over time. It is important to identify what species are there in order to know what the best removal method is. There are links to a variety of resources on identifying and preventing the spread of these species in the further information section below.
- Farm Wildlife UK provide more detailed advice on different wetland features that exist on farms here
- Fresh Water Habitats Trust give more details on the different freshwater habitats and why they are important here.
- Fresh Water Habitats Trust provide a Pond Creation Toolkit with various information on how to do, when to do and what species you may find after doing here.
- Invasive Species Ireland provide details on some of the invasive species you may find in freshwater habitats here.
- The Bride Project in Co.Cork (EIP) has a Farm Habitat Management Guidelines here.
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The development of these how to sections have been supported by the National Parks and Wildlife Service
and the Department of Agriculture, Food, and the Marine