Ecosystems Services

Ecosystems Services are the many and varied benefits that humans freely gain from the natural environment. The GLAS agri-environment scheme currently pays farmers for these services. However, Nature Rising is proposing that farmers who divest from animal farming be allowed to retain their CAP payments in return for Ecosystems Services. This would result in more money for farmers, as the GLAS scheme only pays up to a maximum of 5,000 euros per year.

You can read more about Payments for Ecosystems Services here.

Ecosystems Services include the following:

  • Forestry
  • Biodiversity Restoration
  • Restoration of bogs
  • Restoration of wetlands
  • Restoration of native grasslands  
  • Carbon Sequestration 
  • Pollination of crops and other plants
  • Provision of clean drinking water
  • Flood attenuation measures
  • Maintenance of soil health
  • Maintenance of Aquatic Systems
  • Creation of protected areas
  • Food production

Forestry:

Much of our native forests were originally cut down in order to create pasture for grazing animals.  Ireland now has only 11% forest cover.  The EU average is 34%. For more – see our Forestry page.

Useful links :

Biodiversity Restoration:

This is the practice of renewing and restoring degraded, damaged, or destroyed ecosystems and habitats.  Restored habitats help to increase the populations of wild species which are currently in decline such as birds, bees, butterflies, aquatic species and other animals.

You can read more about Ireland’s biodiversity and related projects here:

Restoration of Bogs:

Bogs are of high importance for biodiversity and have distinctive assemblages of animal, fungal and plant species.  The peat in bogs is an important place for the storage of carbon. If the peat decays, carbon dioxide would be released to the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Undisturbed, bogs function as a carbon sink.

For more information please see the following links:

Restoration of wetlands:

Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil, or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year, including during the growing season.  Water saturation largely determines how the soil develops and the types of plant and animal communities living in and on the soil.  Wetlands may support both aquatic and terrestrial species.  The prolonged presence of water also creates conditions that favour the growth of specially adapted plants.

For more, see the following links:

Restoration of native grasslands:

Grasslands are areas where the vegetation is dominated by grasses.  Sedge and rush can also be found along with clover, herbs and native wildflowers.

Links:

Carbon Sequestration: 

Soil, forests, peat bogs and wetlands all play a part in carbon sequestration.  Soils hold four times the amount of carbon stored in the atmosphere. About half of this is found deep within soils.  Globally, soils are estimated to contain approximately 1,500 gigatons of organic carbon to 1m depth, more than the amount in vegetation and the atmosphere. The total carbon reservoir in Irish forestry exceeds 1 billion tonnes, most of which is in the soil. 

For more information please see the following links:

Pollination:

In the days prior to mechanisation and intensification farming was very pollinator friendly because it was rich in flowering plants, hay meadows and annual flowers in cereal crops.  There were more wildflowers along lanes and in field corners due to less spraying, more flowers in hedgerows due to less mechanisation and we grew more of our own fruits and vegetables.  In the past 50 years, advances in farming have reduced the amount of flowers and the result is that we now have fewer bees.  

Actions that can be taken to encourage pollinators include:

  • Maintaining native flowering hedgerows 
  • Allowing wildflowers to grow around the farm  
  • Providing nesting places for wild bees 
  • Minimising or eliminating artificial fertiliser use 
  • Reducing or eliminating pesticide use

For more information see the following links:

Provision of clean drinking water:

Drinking water can become contaminated as the result of runoff from agricultural land.  This runoff may include slurry, antibiotics, pesticides, fertilisers and other chemicals.  Slurry is a source of E.coli contamination which can be fatal. Eutrophication is a term used to describe the overabundant growth of green plant material in water.  It is caused by excessive quantities of Nitrogen and Phosphorous (contained in fertilisers) reaching the water.  Eutrophication is a significant problem in Irish rivers. Chemicals, such as heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides (such as Glyphosate) have been found in the Irish water supply.  Some water supplies have persistent issues with pesticide detections.  It is important that farmers switch to organic farming methods which avoid the use of both chemicals and artificial fertilisers.  By divesting from animal farming the problem of slurry and antibiotic contamination can be avoided. One third (1,460) of Ireland’s 4,829 waterbodies are at risk of not meeting Water Framework Directive (WFD) status objectives.

For more information, please see the following links:

Flood alleviation measures:

Measures that can be taken to help mitigate or prevent flooding include :

  • Afforestation
  • Planting of hedges
  • Restoration of native grassland and wetland
  • Planting vegetation on bare ground, especially in winter
  • Ensuring that land is not compacted by the use of heavy machinery
  • Ensuring that field drains are not put in place in areas where these are found to contribute to flooding, or breaking existing field drains which are contributing to flooding.

For more information see the following links:

Maintenance of soil health:

Soil is a living ecosystem, essential for human and environmental health.  Soil is a biological engine where micro-organisms play a fundamental role in the decomposition of organic matter into nutrients available for plants, animals and humans.  Together with larger organisms, such as earthworms, these micro-organisms contribute to the structure of the soil making it more permeable to water and gases which is very important in recharging surface and ground water resources and preventing flooding.  Besides providing a habitat for below-ground biodiversity, soil is essential for the survival of most above-ground species.  Chemical pollution by fertilizers, pesticides, and antibiotics can destabilize the population dynamics of soil organisms, by affecting their reproduction, growth and survival.

For more, see the following links:

Aquatic Systems:

Aquatic systems include rivers, ponds, lakes and streams. Freshwater ecosystems provide habitat for fishes, molluscs, insects, plants and mammals.  These ecosystems are also the most threatened – they are strongly affected by habitat modification, fragmentation and destruction, invasive species, overfishing, pollution, forestry practices, disease and climate change.  These combined threats have led to catastrophic declines in freshwater biodiversity. In Ireland 40% of rivers, 31% of lakes, 63% of transitional waters, and 42% of coastal zones do not meet good or high status.  90% of designated Natura 2000 water dependent habitats have an unfavourable conservation status and 50% of Natura 2000 water dependent species have an unfavourable status.  In Ireland the European Eel is critically endangered and the Natterjack Toad is endangered.  Among our freshwater fish species Pollan, Char, Twaite, Killarney Shad and Atlantic Salmon are vulnerable.  All of these species are impacted by agricultural practices as well as other pressures.  For example, Pollan and Char, that require cool deep waters unimpacted by nutrient enrichment, have gone extinct from a number of lakes over the past 40 years.  57% of designated freshwater pearl mussel populations do not meet the high water quality status needed for this indicator species.  In addition, over 15% of Irish water beetle species, butterfly species and dragonflies and damselflies are threatened.

Links:

Protected areas:

Ireland has a poor history of establishing nature reserves.  Ireland has the smallest area designated as a Special Protected Area (3%) under the EU Birds Directive – the EU average is 11.4%.  As of 2010, Ireland has 10.7% of its land area designated as a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive.  This was the ninth smallest proportion of land area in the EU.  The EU average was 13.7%. In Ireland only 7% of listed habitats were considered to be in a favourable state according to the EPA in 2016. 

For more information please see the following links :

Food production:

Food production should be organic, thereby eliminating pesticides and artificial fertilisers.  A major proportion of the vegetables and fruits consumed in Ireland are imported from other countries, so there is huge potential for growth in this sector.

For more information see the following links: