If meadows and pastures are used carefully, they harbor an enormous variety of species. More than one third of all native plant species have their main occurrence there. Of the endangered plants, around 40 percent grow on grassland. The BN therefore promotes nature-friendly agriculture.
Healthy food grows here – including wildflowers and herbs. (Photo: Inge Steidl)
The meadow habitat is both beautiful and useful: wild herbs and wildflowers grow here, which in turn provide healthy and naturally produced fodder for our milk and meat suppliers. In addition, the meadow provides habitat for tons of insects and other animals. Meadows and pastures make up about one third of the agriculturally used area of Bavaria. Regular use and care ensures the existence of this so-called cultural grassland, one of the most important habitats of our homeland.
More than a third of all native plant species grow in meadows and pastures. The plants found here have adapted to the rhythm of human cultivation. Every plant is naturally damaged when it is mowed or eaten away. However, the typical plants of meadows and pastures survive the damage done to it better than other outdoor plants. Plants with leaf rosettes close to the ground, such as daisies or marguerites, tolerate pruning very well. Regular human intervention frees them from competitors that would otherwise deprive them of light and nutrients.
Without mowing, the meadow habitat would gradually become colonized by shrubs and trees over time and turn into forest (succession). Depending upon management form different life forms and kinds are favoured. In Germany, mowed meadows make up the largest part of grassland, a smaller part is grazed.
Wildflower meadows are a cultural asset
When one thinks of meadows, one sees in one’s mind’s eye wide, colorful landscapes with many different wildflowers and herbs. Such wildflower meadows are a cultural asset. They developed under the hand of man with increasingly sophisticated mowing methods to dozens of different types of meadows – depending on climate, soil type, slope and altitude – from alpine mats and mountain meadows to wet and greasy meadows, dry and rough grasslands to litter and orchard meadows. They are all mowed regularly to feed the grass or hay to animals.
Grasses are typical for meadows, because they can sprout again very quickly at their nodes after a cut. Meadows that are mowed only once or at most three times a year and receive little fertilizer – so-called extensive grassland – become species-rich and colorful habitats that are important for biodiversity. Colorful wild herbs can make up as much as 30 percent of the stand there.
Because a lot of work and passion goes into wildflower meadows, BUND Naturschutz (BN) awards prizes to the "meadow champions" every year. These are farmers who care for these beautiful and important cultural landscapes with knowledge and passion.
Meadow habitat – diversity creates life
Meadow nesting birds such as the lapwing benefit from gently used grassland. (Photo: Ralph Frank)
With their variety of structures, meadows and pastures provide habitats for a large number of animal species, including vertebrates such as birds and grass frogs, as well as grasshoppers and spiders, up to the almost unmanageable small fauna of flower visitors. There are sometimes close interrelationships between flora and fauna. In this way, beetles, bees and butterflies benefit not only from the abundance of species and flowers, but also from staggered flowering sequences. Intact wet meadows are home to rare meadow nesting birds such as the curlew, lapwing, whinchat, snipe, meadow pipit, corn bunting and corncrake. In addition, other ground-nesting species such as skylark, quail and partridge also lay their nests in meadows and pastures.
But wildflower meadows with their valuable meadow herbs not only ensure biological diversity, they have also shaped our Bavarian cultural landscape for centuries – especially in the foothills of the Alps and in the low mountain ranges. Unfortunately, such wildflower meadows are becoming increasingly rare in our landscape. Mowed four to six times a year and intensively fertilized, the plants on grassland today are driven to grow quickly – with fatal consequences. Only a few wild herbs can cope with this intensive cultivation. A so-called uniform meadow is created, where often less than 20 plant species remain. The proportion of grass is increasing and, apart from a few nitrogen-loving plants, the meadow herbs are disappearing with the flood of nutrients. The result is uniform yellow flowering dandelion meadows, which may be beautiful to look at, but do not mean anything good: they are a sign of extreme fertilization and species poverty. The end result is monotonous "grass fields" with meadow foxtail or ryegrass, which can then account for up to 90 percent of yields.
Pastures – a healthy buffet for our farm animals
Plants that grow in pastures are well adapted: Grasses and rosette plants don’t mind being eaten every now and then – they simply grow back quickly. What else grows on grazed grassland varies depending on care, fertilization, grazing species, and duration and frequency of grazing. In general, species that are inedible to animals, such as poisonous and thorny plants, and those that are particularly tolerant of trampling are at an advantage. The transitional form between meadows and pastures is the mowing pasture. They are mowed about twice a year for hay or silage and grazed once in the fall or even in the spring.
Meadows are a table set for you
What grows on the green meadow often unnoticed, not infrequently has healing power and is pure palate joy in addition. In Bavaria, more than 500 herb educators from rural agriculture are active and pass on their knowledge. Also in the district and local groups of BUND Naturschutz herb walks are offered regularly.
Scattered orchards – a home for many species
Habitat and feast for the eyes: a flowering meadow orchard (Photo: Jurgen Falchle/stock.adobe.com)
The name scattered orchard comes from the fact that in these meadows fruit trees are "scattered" loosely over the area at irregular intervals. Large-crowned trees with high trunks are characteristic of orchard meadows. Often several types and varieties of fruit grow there and flowery meadows grow under the trees, which are either extensively mowed or grazed. In southern Germany, these are classically sage-grass meadows, one of our most species-rich and colorful meadow communities of all. The environmentally sound use of orchards excludes the use of pesticides and synthetic mineral fertilizers. Diseases are less likely to occur due to fruit varieties that are adapted to their location.
But orchards are not only something to look at, they also provide a home for animals and plants. Due to the mixture of trees and meadow, typical meadow and forest species occur there at the same time. Bird species that depend on nesting cavities and insects for food are the main beneficiaries. Some meadow orchards are home to more than 40 different bird species, including hoopoe and ortolan, green woodpecker and collared flycatcher, little owl and wryneck. They are also irreplaceable refuges for rare animals and plants such as the Bechstein’s bat, the evening bat, some orchid and gentian species as well as mistletoe and tree lichen.
In a relatively small area, meadow orchards are often home to an astonishing number of different inhabitants. A single apple tree can be 1.000 beetles, butterflies and flies. Along with the colorful flowering meadows, this habitat has been home to over 5.000 different animal and plant species counted. And orchard meadows do even more: they mitigate night frosts, serve as wind and rain protection, and provide shade. They prevent soil erosion like hardly any other form of cultivation and at the same time provide fresh air.