Development of lowland hay meadows
What is a lowland hay meadow? A special area of conservation, a colourful flower meadow, an agricultural area, a bee pasture, a specially protected landscape element and – rather rare. It is not just species that can end up on the Red List. Complete habitats may be threatened and the lowland hay meadow is one of them. North Rhine-Westphalia classifies it as „endangered“, since they flourish under conditions exactly opposite to those prevalent in modern day grassland cultivation. The need to be mowed twice a year and are destroyed by over-fertilisation. Their seeds, formerly distributed by the now almost extinct practice of nomadic shepherding, increasingly „drift into emptiness“.
If such habitats are to be sustained or even created today, a helping hand is necessary: actively planting regional meadow plant seeds is an example and the means by which biodiverse hay meadows were created in the project’s target area.
The first meadow was planted on a dyke close to the Rhine in August 2015. After creating a suitable bed by opening up the topsoil, a mixture of native meadow plant seeds was sown. In the peripherals of this first area, five additional spots as well as eight spots in a second suitable area within the project site were treated in the same way in 2016 . The measure was continued on another 6,8 ha grassland, which had a low number of species before. Thus, on a total of 17,3 ha meadows were developed and improved.
A total of 41 species of meadow herbs and grasses were used in the applied seeds. Fourteen of these are considered as vulnerable in the Lower Rhine region, eighteen are part of the Red List NRW. Once the plants grow, a sage oat-grass meadow will develop over the next years. This type of meadow is among the most colourful of all and thrives on dry, alkaline ground found, for example, on the slopes of dykes in the Rhine’s floodplain.
The seeds are produced regionally and many rare species such as small scabious (Scabiosa columbaria), salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor), meadow salsify (Tragogogon pratensis) and meadow sage (Salvia pratensis) were even collected manually from chosen sites. Everything is meant to be typical of the region. Very rare and hard to find seeds were first grown in pots and diligently transferred to the meadow as young plants in autumn.
Still, we will not have finished work on our meadows even after the project has ended. Planting a meadow also involves ensuring that unwanted competition doesn’t establish itself, partly for the benefit of the land users, who don’t want their hay contaminated by ragwort, thistles and the like. We are targeting an agriculturally usable meadow producing healthy hay.