- Farmlands are rural areas where farming is practiced.
- Grasslands are areas dominated by grass or grass-like vegetation.
- Farming has shaped the type & range of our current species. Most farmland has been derived from former woodland. The clearance of woodland & cultivation of many types of grasslands, bog & heath has increased species richness.
- Farmlands & grasslands are rapidly changing habitats and as a consequence their biodiversity is changing.
- The landscape is currently dominated by ‘Improved Grasslands’, which are well fertilised, highly productive grassland. These are often sown for agricultural or recreational use, or created by the modification of unimproved grasslands. Such pastures typically have low biodiversity due to the relatively intensive management, including high grazing levels, repeated cutting for silage, high inputs of fertiliser or slurry & selective herbicides. These grasslands are most likely to change over time because their management is responsive to the economics of farming, new technologies & changes in agricultural policy (NICS, 2007). Improved Grassland covers 573,000 ha (40.5% land area) in Northern Ireland (NICS, 2007).
- Semi-natural grasslands have been in existence for many decades or centuries & provide an important refuge for plant species. They are traditionally managed for livestock grazing and/or hay. These ‘unimproved’ grasslands are an increasingly rare habitat in NI, mainly confined to wetter & thinner soils found in the upland margins. Semi-natural grasslands include Neutral Grassland (pH 5.5-6.5), Calcareous Grassland (pH>6.5) & Acid Grassland (pH<5.5).
- Many birds use open grassland & arable fields as a source of food. Due to tree removal, hedgerows have become crucial. Biodiversity is often concentrated within these ‘safe havens’.
- Northern Ireland Habitat Action Plans have been produced for four Priority Farmland & Grassland Habitats, which are found within the areas included in this audit. Broad Habitats are included in parentheses:
– Coastal & Floodplain Grazing Marsh (Improved Grassland)
– Calcareous Grassland (Calcareous Grassland)
– Lowland Dry Acid Grassland (Acid Grassland)
– Species-rich Hedgerows (Boundary & Linear Features)