Species rich semi-natural grasslands are an important but threatened habitat throughout Europe and much of the former area has been lost since the 1950s. However, in some countries large areas have been preserved and the demand for meadow recreation by sowing seed mixtures is increasing. In the White Carpathians Protected Landscape Area (Czech Republic) the use of commercial seed mixtures is undesirable and the use of regional mixtures has been investigated. The costs for seeding large areas are high and lower cost techniques are needed. In 1999 a ï¬eld experiment was set up to investigate the restoration of hay meadow vegetation comparing the sowing of a regional mixture all over a plot with sowing narrow 2.5 m strips of regional seed mixtures into a matrix of a commercial grass mixture or into natural regeneration. The results after ï¬ve seasons showed good establishment of the sown species in the meadow treatment. Spread of sown species from the sown strips into the surrounding matrix occurred but the cover of species was lower in the commercial grass matrix compared with the natural regeneration matrix. Colonization of some plots by unsown desirable grassland species from adjacent grassland habitats also occurred, but more species colonized the natural regeneration matrix than the commercial grasses or the sown meadow matrix itself. Overall, the results indicate that, in appropriate situations, sown strips can provide a lower cost but slower and longer-term alternative to ï¬eld scale sowing of regional seed mixtures for restoration of hay meadow vegetation.
White Carpathians Protected Area, Czech Republic, 48.8295214, 16.67199000000005
Country or Territory:
Grasslands & Savannas - Temperate
Area being restored:
Primary Causes of DegradationAgriculture & Livestock, Fragmentation
In the Czech Republic grasslands occupy about 800,000 ha, which since 1950 has declined by almost a third of the total historical grassland area because of agricultural intensification and abandonment. In the beginning of the 20th century the White Carpathian meadows covered a much larger area than today. In the second half of the 20th century, many of the meadows were destroyed, not only my plowing or excessive fertilization, but also by lack of management and abandonment. Particularly hilly parts with uneven terrain were hard to mow with common agricultural equipment and therefore were abandoned. Subsequently, hawthorn scrub encroached on these lands and since the Velvet Revolution of 1989 hundreds of hectares of arable land have been regrassed. Overall, there are 4000 ha of hay meadows in the White Carpathian Mountains. The project site was part of the flower-rich meadow complex prior to the 1970s, but from 1970-1998 the field was plowed and sown with arable crops.
Reference Ecosystem Description
These species rich semi-natural grasslands are an important but threatened habitat throughout Europe. These meadows are rich in wildflowers with up to 103 vascular plant species per 24 sq meters. The richness comes from a history of low intensity management and being situated biogeographically between the Subatlantic, Montane Carpathian, and Pannonian regions.
At the regional scale, a primary conservation objective is to prevent further losses of flower-rich hay meadows, to maintain the existing meadows in favorable condition and where possible to extend their current area through restoration on suitable arable land. The restoration of grassland biotopes can help reverse habitat losses elsewhere. However, there are constraints for successful restoration on ex-arable soils such as residual soil fertility that may reduce the survival of target species due to competition from grasses. Also, even if soils are deemed suitable the lack of propagules of desirable species in the seed bank and seed rain results in very few target species that establish by natural regeneration. The overall objective of the study was to assess the feasibility of different restoration techniques, comparing higher cost regional seed mixtures with low cost natural regeneration and intermediate methods using sown strips in a commercial grass mixture or in a natural regeneration matrix to provide information about the improvement of regional conservation strategies.
The project does not have a monitoring plan.
Conservation of these flower-rich hay meadows at a European level happens because of the Habitats Directive, which identifies orchid rich traditional hay meadows as a priority for conservation. The extent of area annually sown depends on subsidies from the ministries of the environment and agriculture under EU agri-environmental schemes, mainly because meadow management is unprofitable and hay production exceeds demand.
Description of Project Activities:
Before the establishment of the plots, from 1993 to 1995, the selection and preparation of a suitable native regional hay meadow seed mixture corresponding to the reference hay meadow vegetation of the study area was carried out. The target community is the Bromion erecti alliance of the Festuco-Brometea. Typical species include: Festuca rupicola, Bromus erectus, Briza media, Koeleria pyramidata, Molinia arundinacea, Carex montana, Asperula tinctoria, Astragalus danicus, Cirsium pannonicum, Crepis praemorsa, Filipendula vulgaris, Helianthemum nummularium, Hypochoeris maculata, Inula salicina, Iris graminea, Knautia kitaibelii, Lathyrus latifolius, Melampyrum cristatum, Orobanche lutea, Peucedanum cervaria, Polygala major, Potentilla alba, Primula veris, Prunella grandiï¬‚ora, Pulmonaria angustifolia, Scorzonera hispanica, Serratula tinctoria, Thesium linophyllon, Trifolium alpestre, Trifolium montanum, Trifolium rubens, Veronica teucrium, and the orchids Anacamptis pyramidalis, Gymnadenia conopsea, Orchis mascula, Orchis militaris, Orchis ustulata, Ophrys fuciï¬‚ora subsp. holubyana, Platanthera bifolia and Traunsteinera globosa. Seed of about 100 of the most frequent White Carpathian grassland species was collected and cultivated in nursery beds. For this project, 7 grass species and 20 herb species (including 3 legumes) were sown. Seeds of these species were harvested in 1998, at times determined by seed ripeness. The experiment was set up in 1999 in a 3 ha arable ï¬eld. The experiment was a randomized block design with four treatments (1 - 4) each replicated four times (A - D) in plots each measuring 55 m x 20 m. The plots were sown in spring 1999 after the ï¬eld had been ploughed in autumn 1998 and harrowed twice (to reduce weeds) in spring 1999. Four establishment treatments were applied: (1) RSM: Regional seed mixture sown at a seed rate of 2 g/sqm over the whole plot, (2) RCG: Regional seed mixture sown at a seed rate of 2 g/sqmô°Šon the 2.5 m wide central strip with lateral strips sown with a matrix of a commercial grass seed mix at a seed rate of 2 g/sqm, (3) RNR: Regional seed mixture sown at a seed rate of 2 g/sqm on the 2.5 m wide central strip with lateral strips left for a matrix of vegetation to develop from natural regeneration, and (4) NR: Natural regeneration over the whole plot.The management of the experimental area included annual mowing in July or August and subsequent removal of hay.
Ecological Outcomes Achieved
Eliminate existing threats to the ecosystem:
The majority of sown grass and herb species showed good establishment and persistence over the duration of the experiment. Only one species failed to establish altogether (Helianthemum nummularium) probably due to poor seed quality. Unsurprisingly, the most effective treatment for establishing hay meadow vegetation is the RSM treatment where the regional seed mixture was sown over the whole plot. More importantly, results for the RCG and RNR treatments, where the regional seed mixture was sown in 2.5 m wide strips in a matrix of commercial grasses or natural regeneration, provide information on spread of species from a sown area into a surrounding matrix. All of the sown grass species were recorded colonising the matrix of the RCG or the RNR treatments although some of them at low frequency (Anthoxanthum odoratum, Briza media and Koeleria macrantha). These general results for the grasses are in agreement with other studies which show effective establishment, persistence and spread amongst a wide range of grass species. For the regional herb species the situation is somewhat different. On the basis of ï¬ve years results most of these herb species showed less potential to spread from the sown strips into natural regeneration or commercial grass matrix than the regional grass species. Herbs appear to be slower to develop effective dispersal than grasses and this lower dispersal capability is one of the major constraints to species-rich grassland recreation by natural regeneration on arable land. These general results are consistent with the conclusion others who suggest that grasses consistently out-perform herbs in many grassland restoration experiments. Nonetheless, most of the regional herb species showed some potential to spread from the sown strips, but apart from Centaurea jacea, Leontodon hispidus, Plantago lanceolata, Prunella laciniata and Prunella vulgaris, these species had colonised the matrix of the different treatments only patchily by 2004. Only ï¬ve of the regional herb species that established in the sown strips were absent from the quadrats in the matrix of the RCG or RNR treatments; Betonica ofï¬cinalis, Cirsium pannonicum, Hypericum perforatum, Leucanthemum vulgare and Salvia verticillata. The result for Leucanthemum contrasts with the results of other studies where Leucanthemum is one of the best establishing species, although sometimes showing poor persistence and variable spread. The explanation for the poor performance of Leucanthemum in this experiment is uncertain, it could reï¬‚ect poor seed viability, although the same batch of seed showed good establishment in another area sown in 2000. The general ï¬nding for herbs, however, is in accord with other studies that show herbs to persist well when they do establish, but to be more variable in their establishment and spread than grasses. Colonization by both regional grasses and regional herbs was more successful into the natural regeneration matrix than into the commercial grasses. This result is expected; competition of commercial grass species such as Festuca rubra and Arrhenatherum elatius can be expected to reduce establishment success of at least some herb species from seed. Pywell et al. (2002), in a multi-site ï¬eld experiment, compared diversiï¬cation of a species-poor grass dominated seed mixture compared with natural regeneration. They concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that sowing a species-poor grass-dominated seed mixture made the vegetation any less susceptible to colonization by desirable species compared with natural regeneration. However, close inspection of their data indicates an increasing trend for species richness in the natural regeneration compared with decreasing trend in the grass dominated mix, suggesting that the sown grass matrix does reduce the potential for diversiï¬cation compared with natural regeneration.
Factors limiting recovery of the ecosystem:
The landscape context of restoration sites is an important element in determining the success or failure of grassland restoration, especially in terms of long-term sustainability. Careful targeting of sites in relation to existing fragments of species-rich grassland is an important element in restoration planning at the regional level. For this project the site was bounded by forest on one side, arable crops on two others and the fourth side was an orchard with Bromion grassland containing some hay meadow species. The area also had a large area of species-rich grassland only .3 km downhill and 1 km over the hilltop. The movement of animals such as deer regularly occurs between the meadows and woodland, facilitating the movement of species through animal and wind dispersal. Most of the colonization that occurred in this project is thought to have happened this way because meadow species in this ecosystem do not persist in the seed bank as their seeds lose viability within a few years. Mowing, while beneficial in some respects was found to provide the poorest conditions for colonization by these desirable unsown grassland species, and the inhibitory effect could be a negative factor preventing diversification of the sown vegetation in areas adjacent to existing meadows. Additionally, mowing was the most expensive treatment but has the potential to produce good saleable meadow hay from the second year which could be an added financial incentive for the farmer to adopt this method of restoration. The cost of wildflower seed is expensive and while it is seen as the most rapid means to restoration of these grasslands, the practice of sowing the regional seed mixture in a strip is the most cost effective treatment. While the speed of colonization is considerably slower and requires mowing and adjacent seed sources to succeed, the extra mowing and the poor quality of the hay are of little value and high cost to the landowner.
Socio-Economic & Community Outcomes Achieved
Economic vitality and local livelihoods:
Restoration methods all have advantages and disadvantages, there are always alternative strategies which may be able to optimize short-term establishment of a restricted range of desirable characteristics with the prospect for longer-term diversification. The results of this particular project suggest that a regional seed mix sown over the entire area can quickly achieve a grassland sward acceptable in species richness and agricultural terms. However, it is an expensive option. Alternatives for achieving similar results are sowing strips of seed, but this method is much longer term and has less beneficial hay resultant.
The best method for establishing species rich meadow vegetation was the RSM treatment with good establishment and persistence of sown regional grass and herb species. The rapidly established meadow sward prevented weed problems and even resisted colonization by more competitive species. Mowing once a year was sufficient to maintain the sward, with an added beneficial influence on seed dispersal enhanced by the mowing machine. Lower sowing rates are an alternative prospect for successfully establishing desired vegetation, and lower seeding rates allow for the restoration of larger areas. A further alternative to seed sowing is hay strewing, which has shown great promise at creating a sward similar to the original grassland and can be an effective and cost-effective method for the restoration of species-rich vegetation.
Sources and Amounts of Funding
This project was supported by the Czech Ministry of the Environment Grant No. 526/02/0036 from the Czech Grand Agency. The British Ecological Society provided some financial assistance.
Jongepierova, Ivana, Jonathan Mitchley, and Joseph Tzanopoulos. 2007. A field experiment to recreate species rich hay meadows using regional seed mixtures. Biological Conservation, 139: 297-305.