The protection of wildlife habitats is one of the objectives of sustainable rural development. Good agricultural practice includes the existence of undeveloped zones in the vicinity of drainage ditches and watercourses and leaving traditional baulks as ecological corridors through which wild organisms can move through agricultural land. Such areas should be mowed periodically to prevent overgrowth with undesirable vegetation and the encroachment of invasive species.
From the point of view of preserving biodiversity, it is also important to leave groups of thickets and mid-field shrubs and individual trees as habitats for plants and animals. The species composition of plantings should include native tree and shrub species and be adapted to the habitat (soil type, climate). Biodiversity refuges in agricultural areas are also mid-field ponds, important mainly for the conservation of bird, amphibian and reptile species. Water bodies, formed naturally in depressions in the land, as well as drainage ditches and watercourses, should be surrounded by a zone of bank vegetation to minimise the infiltration of fertilisers and plant protection products used on the farm. Habitat conducive to the preservation of rare and valuable weed species are the edges of cultivated fields left unsprayed.
11.4.1 Wildlife and plant habitats on the farm
A sound identification of actual and potential wildlife and plant habitats is the basis for their effective protection. Both the wildlife nesting on the farm (birds, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, fish, snails) and the vegetation should be considered. Attention should mainly be paid to the vegetation associated with watercourses and drainage ditches and baulks, which are biodiversity hotspots in the agricultural landscape. Reconnaissance should be carried out with regard to both low, herbaceous vegetation and trees and shrubs growing on field boundaries. It is particularly important to look at old specimens of avenue trees or those growing next to drainage ditches, as they can provide habitats for many rare and protected species from different groups: insects, birds, bats, as well as fungi, lichens and bryophytes. Such trees, even if they do not belong to protected species, are treated as naturally valuable and protected. Another important habitat for biodiversity conservation is mid-field afforestation, i.e. groups of trees and shrubs left in the landscape of cultivated fields. The greater the area and species diversity of such an afforestation or shrubland, the greater the likelihood of rare and protected species being present. Extensively used grasslands, with which more than a third of Europe’s plant and animal species are associated, should also be considered when identifying habitats for wildlife species. An up-to-date list of protected species is available on this website.
11.4.2 Protection of escarpments, shrublands, wetlands etc. covered with specific vegetation
Habitats such as escarpments, bushland and wetlands are areas on the farm that are most often excluded from use as difficult to cultivate land. These areas provide valuable habitats for wild plant and animal species and enhance the biodiversity of the agricultural environment, important for agricultural production. Adapting these habitats to intensive farming is not only detrimental to biodiversity conservation, but is usually resource-intensive and financially unviable. Refuges of spontaneous vegetation among arable fields are specific habitats and often provide habitats for rare and legally protected species. An example of such habitats are the so-called ‘xerothermic’ grasslands, which grow on the southern slopes of hills with calcareous substrates and are a refuge for grassland communities. These habitats are very rare in Central Europe and therefore protected by Natura 2000 and provide habitats for rare animal species, especially insects. Such areas should absolutely be preserved for their conservation value. The destruction of Natura 2000 protected habitats and legally protected species is defined as environmental damage and is punishable by law.