Healthy landscapes through species-rich meadows
What's the problem?
The climate and → biodiversity discussions are mainly focused on forests and farmlands. Forests are usually considered to be positive, farmland is usually seen as negative. What is often overlooked is the fact that there is also permanent grassland, i.e. the agricultural meadows and pastures as well as the nutrient-poor grassland, which used to be part of agriculture. The Grassland - and this article will initially focus exclusively on Central European grassland - is of very high and previously completely underestimated importance in terms of climate protection and biodiversity. This is partly due to the fact that, at least in Germany, trees and forests have a fundamentally positive emotional connotation and people believe that planting trees is always good for everything. If a tree is felled, there is a great outcry in the population, but if a meadow rich in flowers and herbs is turned into a field, nobody cares, although the greatest diversity of plant, insect and bird species in Central Europe is not tied to the forest at all, but to the open cultural landscape with its flower-rich (!) meadows and pastures, neglected grassland and wet meadows, fields, and field margins, roadsides, ponds, ditches, borders, etc. And the species-rich grassland stores a great deal of carbon due to the humus build-up in the soil. Moreover, as wintergreen vegetation, it even has the advantage over the forest, because it binds CO2 also during winter months when the forest is completely inactive. The evergreen species-rich grassland - meadows, pastures, nutrient-poor grassland - has a very high and hitherto completely underestimated importance with regard to climate protection and biodiversity. The focused needs to be shifted towards these factors.
What's the measure?
The most important measure is an educational work that raises the importance of species-rich meadows and pastures in Central Europe to at least the same level as that of forests. A practical measure is to optimise or newly establish species-rich meadows and pastures in as many places as possible, with the aims of (1) obtaining healthy basic feed for agricultural animals, (2) increasing the diversity of animal and plant species in a region and (3) making a very significant contribution to the carbon sink.
What can the implementation look like?
The implementation can only be done together with agriculture or, on a smaller scale, with horticulture. Farmers and gardeners must learn to appreciate the species-rich meadows and pastures in a new way (see educational work!), primarily for agricultural reasons such as animal health, humus formation, biological pest control, pollinator performance of wild bees etc. etc. They must then be advised, for example by trained "agricultural plant sociologists".
How does this help to counteract climate change?
Forest development and tree planting are highly regarded in times of climate change and one could give top priority to the forest for reasons of climate protection. However, this is questionable, as Idel & Beste (2018) show: Globally, grassland soils store much more carbon than forest soils. This can happen because the root mass in permanent grasslands (meadows and pastures) is up to 20 times greater than the shoot mass; the reverse is true for forests, where the root mass is on average only half as large as the above-ground part. In addition, in Central Europe, the → vegetation period of evergreen grasslands is significantly longer than that of forests, because grasses begin to grow at very low temperatures - thus a longer period is available for the formation of organic matter. It is therefore very likely that, at least by Central European standards, the focus of climate protection will have to be directed much more towards grasslands and not forests (Temperton et al. 2019).
What other effects does the measure have?
Besides climate protection, the development of species-rich meadows and pastures is of the greatest importance for Central European biodiversity. This is because most of the flora of Germany, for example, is linked to extensive meadows, pastures, and nutrient-poor grassland. The same applies to the world of insects and birds (Kunz 2017). Meadows and pastures and even the lean grasslands have a higher dietary effect on livestock due to their healthy growth of grasses and herbs and thus have a positive effect on agricultural product quality. The meadows, which are particularly rich in species, were once even considered to be the "stable pharmacy".species-rich grasslands have a particularly high aesthetic attractiveness due to the enormous abundance of flowers; in addition, the buzzing and humming of insects and the chirping of crickets. Also, the songbirds, which in turn live from the insects, enrich the experience quality of the extensive mowing meadows with their singing. These are the "meadows of childhood", which convey a particularly intense feeling of home and security. Rural mixed farms with species-rich grassland and arable land also have positive social effects, as people from the farm environment, the clientele or other groups (schools, kindergartens) like to connect with such a flowering farm and want to help here. Thus the idea of solidarity-based agriculture can be extended to biotope management, for example.
How quickly can the measure be implemented?
The educational work and the establishment of species-rich grassland can start immediately. The accompanying training of "agricultural plant sociologists" as project consultants will take a few years.
How long will it take for the measure to take effect?
The biodiversity-enhancing, aesthetic and agricultural effects start immediately - in the year after the measure. The climate-relevant effects are more long-term.
Further Literature, Sources
- Idel, Beste (2018): Vom Mythos der klimasmarten Landwirtschaft – oder warum weniger vom Schlechten nicht so gut ist, 2. Auflage. Wiesbaden: Hrsg. Häusling, MdEP, Europabüro Hessen, p 76
- Kunz (2017): Artenschutz durch Habitatmanagement. Der Mythos von der unberührten Natur, Weinheim: Wiley-Vch, p 292
- Temperton, Buchmann, Buisson, Durigan, Kazmierczak, Perring, de Sá Dechoum, Veldman, Overbeck (2019): Step back from the forest and step us to the Bonn Challenge: How a broad ecological perspective can promote successful landscape restoration, : Restoration Ecology 27(4), p 705-719
- Vahle (2015): Gesundende Landschaften durch artenreiche Mähwiesen, Witten: Broschüre im Selbstverlag, p 76 http://www.vegetationskun.de/
Kunz, W. (2017): Artenschutz durch Habitatmanagement. Der Mythos von der unberührten Natur. — Wiley-Vch, Weinheim, 292 S.
Temperton, V.M., Buchmann, N., Buisson, E., Durigan, G., Kazmierczak, L., Perring, M.P., de Sá Dechoum, M., Veldman, J.W., Overbeck, G.E. (2019): Step back from the forest and step us to the Bonn Challenge: How a broad ecological perspective can promote successful landscape restoration. — Restoration Ecology 27 (4): 705-719.
Vahle, H.-C. (2015): Gesundende Landschaften durch artenreiche Mähwiesen. — Broschüre im Selbstverlag, Witten. 76 S. (zu beziehen über www.vegetationskun.de)
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