LIFE Project Mountain Hay Meadows near Winterberg

Sustained, favourable management and improvement of mountain hay meadows near Winterberg

In Europe, mountain hay meadows (habitat 6520) belong to those cultural landscapes which are particularly endangered. Similar to other types of low-intensity hay meadows they are often threatened by intensification and, in particular, by abandonment of management on marginal sites. Another problem is their dependency on cool-humid mountain climate. Therefore, a particular responsibility arises towards clusters of mountain hay meadows within fairly ‘climatically safe’ highlands.

The mountain hay meadows near Winterberg are by far the largest clusters of this habitat in North Rhine-Westphalia. About 390 ha of mountain hay meadows (Geranio sylvatici-Trisetetum), of which about 290 ha are found in designated SCIs, are recorded within the municipality of Winterberg in heights of usually more than 600 and up to 800 metres above sea level. Another 120 ha of these clusters of grassland, of which about 90 ha are found in designated SCIs, are “montane Arrhenatherum elatius grasslands” which have mostly developed as a result of fertilisation of Trisetetum flavescentis grasslands. The planned project area comprises the SCIs “Bergwiesen bei Winterberg DE-4727-305” and “Oberes Orketal DE-4717-306” which are the most important clusters of montane grassland for which a particular need for action is called for and which have a favourable potential for redeveloping and improving mountain hay meadows in the Rhenish Slate Mountains.

Project objectives

Restoration, ecological improvement and sustainable protection of nationally significant clusters of mountain hay meadow as high-risk plant communities and as a refuge for endangered montane species and habitats.

Re-creation and improvement of stands of Trisetetum flavescentis grasslands and closely related montane grassland communities as regards their species spectrum, structure and surface area as habitats for viable populations of specialised plant and animal species.

Sustainable protection of land management systems which are necessary for preserving and maintaining mountain hay meadows. In addition, developing and establishing solutions for ecologically, economically and technically optimised meadow cultivation and hay-cropping in montane areas.

Extraction of autochthonous, storable seed for regional stands of mountain hay meadows as a basis for re-creating mountain hay meadows which, in the meantime, have been either managed differently or degraded, for example, due to wild boars.

Promoting the perception and appreciation of mountain hay meadows as an attractive and identity-forming landscape element and as a valuable factor of sustainable tourism in Sauerland.

Improving the condition of similarly degenerated isolated sites of European dry heaths (habitat 4030) and Species-rich Nardus grasslands, on silicious substrates in mountain areas (and submountain areas in Continental Europe) (habitat 6230*) as important stepping stone habitats in the ecological network of internationally significant stands of montane heaths in the Rothaargebirge.

Land purchase or compensation payments for use rights

Only a very small proportion of the project area is owned by the public sector. Therefore, land purchase or, alternatively, long-term leasing contracts with compensation payments for use restrictions are necessary for implementing the conservation measures. It is both the land purchase and the long-term contracts that will form the basis for defining the concrete action sites. This makes it a vital prerequisite for the implementation of developing measures.

Development measures in agricultural areas

Species-rich montane grassland plant communities – in particular mountain hay meadows (habitat 6520) will be re-created:
a.  from degraded (mostly intensified) stands of grassland
b.  by re-developing spruce afforestations
c.  by re-developing areas of specialised cultivation, e.g. Christmas tree cultivation
d.  by re-establishing low intensity management systems on currently fallow land

The re-establishment of the typical species composition of mountain hay meadows will be undertaken by the application of autochthonous hay through hay sowing. Subsequently, in areas that are accordingly prepared, a management system of annual or bi-annual hay cutting, perhaps with light aftermath grazing, will be secured. For other areas, which are, for example, steeply sloping, a special form of grazing may be agreed upon.

Within isolated areas of montane heaths and of species-rich Nardus grasslands measures to re-create or to improve partly degenerated plant stands (tree clearance and aeration of swards by scarification) will be undertaken. An adjacent area under Christmas tree cultivation is planned to be converted and subsequently revegetated with heaths or Nardus grassland.

Extraction of autochthonous seed

Presumably in the context of the process of hay drying, methods for extracting autochthonous, storable seed for regional sites of mountain hay meadow will be developed and implemented.

Conceptual measures

Development and implementation of an overall concept for technical and economic improvement of the management and maintenance of mountain hay meadows and for valorising them as a basis for their sustainable protection.

Public relations work

Knowledge and appreciation are prerequisites for a sustainable protection of cultural landscape habitats. The attractiveness of the colourful mountain hay meadows, which is currently not much taken notice of, shall be demonstrated with the help of well-directed public relations work. In addition, the potential as an identity-forming landscape element and a valuable element for sustainable tourism shall be highlighted. The public relations work is also planned in order to improve the level of public acceptance towards the implemented conservation measures.

Expected results

The planned development measures on degraded grassland, on arable land, fallow land, afforestation areas and areas of specialised cultivation will re-establish the typical species composition of mountain hay meadows (habitat 6520) and introduce favourable and sustained management.

The concept for sustainable use and valorisation of mountain hay meadows will facilitate an ecologically, technically and economically improved management, not only for the LIFE project area but beyond that also for the overall inventory of hay meadows.

The planned public relations work will lead to mountain hay meadows being perceived more strongly as a valuable and attractive landscape element as well as a unique feature of the holiday region. A valorisation that will be in line with conservation objectives in the context of sustainable tourism will thus form the basis for future conservation efforts.

Re-establishing or improving measures within degenerated clusters of montane heaths and Nardus grassland (habitats 4030 and 6230*) will preserve these habitats and their valuable species inventory within an area of about 4 ha. The heath relics are important stepping stone habitats in the ecological network of nationally significant stands of montane heaths in the Rothaargebirge.
A re-establishment of autochthonous stands of Alluvial forests with Alnus glutinosa and Fraxinus excelsior (habitat 91E0*) by means of converting allochthonous spruce forests is designated on an area of about 1.3 ha.