Of the total land area of approximately 7 million hectares in the Republic of Ireland, almost 5 million are used for agricultural production, including forestry. Thus agriculture and forestry have a huge impact on the natural heritage, including biodiversity, of our island.
Our natural heritage is made up largely of what may be termed semi-natural habitats. During this time span this influence by man has created a range of landscape types with diverse land use practices that has enriched aspects of Ireland's natural flora and fauna.
Traditionally farmers combined food production with countryside management that was friendly to wildlife.
Today the consequent specialisation, concentration and intensification of agricultural activities following Ireland's entry into the EEC in 1972 have had a negative impact on our wider natural environment, particularly with regard to the loss of wildlife habitats and their associated species and deteriorating water quality.
Factors linked to agriculture which have led to habitat loss and/or modification include:
· Increased use of fertilisers
· The abandonment of small scale rotational cropping
· The cultivation and re-seeding of unimproved species rich grassland
· Increased pesticide usage
· The removal of field hedges and banks, trees, woodland and scrub
· The drainage of wetlands
· Increased stocking densities
· Overgrazing of hills, marginal grasslands and heaths
· The substitution of silage for hay
Genetic diversity is based on variation between genes (i.e. the hereditary units of organisms). This type of variation provides the raw material for evolution, enabling change and adaptation in organisms.
This is of crucial importance to activities such as agriculture, as plants and animals need this ability to adapt in order to successfully fight off diseases and infections from organisms such as bacteria and viruses (which are themselves extremely capable of change and adaptation).
The loss of biodiversity results in a diminished capacity for ecosystems to adapt and survive in a continually changing environment.
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