Ruairi Brogan, Policy Officer - Sustainable Agriculture with RSPB NI talks us through an exciting project underway with dairy farmers in Northern Ireland. 

The RSPB Northern Ireland policy team have partnered with the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland and its member organisations Dale Farm, Lakeland Dairies and Glanbia Cheese to explore how dairy farms can play an active role in tackling the declines in farmland biodiversity. The project sought to identify the key actions dairy farmers can take to manage their land better for nature, and to explore how we can scale up the good that is being done for nature on farms. This is the first time that the RSPB has worked with the dairy sector in Northern Ireland in a formal partnership and the results have been encouraging.

Dairy cattle grazing on a hedgerow. Photo Credit: Gethin Davies

Dr Jonathan Bell, Head of Land and Sea Policy at RSPB Northern Ireland reflects on the project, “This work has been so well-received by the dairy industry and farmers alike, who want to take genuine steps towards managing their farms more sustainably. We have helped illustrate the art of the possible for nature, even on our most intensively farmed land, and identified a set of practical actions all dairy farms can take to help turn the tide on nature’s decline.”

Having found success in Wales with the Pasture for Pollinators Project, we believed there was appetite for change closer to home. Based on the Farm Wildlife principles that a minimum of 10% of land would need to be well managed for nature to halt biodiversity decline on farmland, we took our ideas to the industry and received feedback from farmer workshops. This allowed us to develop a menu of options that farmers can choose to implement, ranging from improving slurry management and expanding hedgerows, to sowing clover and mixed species grasses, incorporating wet features and growing more grains.

This is no easy task for a dairy farmer, where every blade of grass matters, but by ground-truthing these interventions through surveys of 5 typical Northern Irish dairy farms, we have demonstrated what is possible. With the right policy tools and support, we believe the industry can make space for nature and become leaders in Nature Positive practices.

The report will be launched at the Dairy Council for Northern Ireland’s annual Dairy Symposium in Late September. You can keep up to date with this work on our NI homepage Farming in Northern Ireland.

Bumblebee on Clover. Photo Credit: Colin Campbell