D. Ó hUallacháin, J.A. Finn, B. Keogh, R. Fritch and H. Sheridan
Semi-natural grassland habitats have declined significantly throughout Europe. To halt the decline, grassland conservation measures have been included in most European agri-environment schemes. This is the first study to compare the botanical composition of grassland habitats managed under the Irish Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS). Sixty fields on drystock pastoral farms in receipt of agri-environment payments for grassland conservation were surveyed, with 20 fields being enrolled in each of the following AEOS options: Traditional Hay Meadow (THM), Species-Rich Grassland (SRG) and Natura 2000 species-rich grassland (Natura). The vegetation quality of sites enrolled in the Natura measure was higher than the quality of those enrolled in the THM and SRG measures. Natura sites had the greatest species richness, with a mean >40 species per site, which included approximately 17 species indicative of high botanical quality. Traditional Hay Meadows sites had the lowest species richness (mean: 29 species per site) and were dominated by species associated with improved grassland. Some THM sites had good levels of botanical richness and were similar in composition to Natura sites, with some Natura sites having lower vegetation quality, more similar to that of THM sites. Species-Rich Grassland had botanical richness that was intermediate between THM and Natura sites. A thorough assessment of the effectiveness of these measures was confounded by a lack of quantitative objectives for the target community composition to be attained. We discuss limitations and potential opportunities regarding the design, targeting, implementation and cost-effectiveness of these agri-environment measures.
D. Madden, S. Harrison, J.A. Finn and D. Ó hUallacháin
Measures that prevent cattle access to watercourses are commonly implemented through agri-environment schemes, in an effort to address the objectives of the Water Framework Directive. Despite the widespread implementation, few studies have assessed the impact of cattle access to streams on aquatic macroinvertebrates. This study assessed the local-scale impact of cattle drinking points on water quality parameters (i.e. macroinvertebrate and water chemistry metrics) on 39 intensively-managed grassland farms in the south-east of Ireland. The results indicate that sites that were more than or equal to good quality upstream of cattle drinking points, were more susceptible to cattle access impacts than sites where upstream water quality was less than good. The European Court of Auditors (2011) recommended that there should be a higher rate of EU contribution for measures with higher environmental potential, in this instance, for cattle exclusion measures targeted to sites where background quality is more than or equal to good. Appropriate efforts should thus be made to incentivise farmers in good to high status sites to adopt cattle exclusion measures.