Introduction of controlled grazing
River floodplains are fertile landscapes where plants that can cope with regular inundation can flourish profusely. Chief among these are the willows that dominate the softwood floodplains. An impenetrable thicket can grow from one willow bush within 2-3 years. Any residual grassland areas soon become overgrown and are lost as habitats for species that live on open land.
Previously, the large herbivores that lived on the river floodplains ensured a mosaic of old floodplain forest areas, deadwood, fallow open land and damp glades instead of monotony. However, today there is a growing threat of a lack of diversity.
Our project aims to prevent this. Just as large herbivores did before people occupied the land, grazing animals will maintain and shape the diversity of the landscape in a designated area. By grazing and biting shrubs, light will break through to give light-loving plants a chance to thrive again. In turn, these partly thorny plants will protect any individual trees or groups of trees from being bitten, enabling distinctive individual trees to spring up here and there in a park-like landscape. The footfall of hooved animals will create sparsely vegetated areas and existing grassland will survive instead of becoming overgrown.
In this way, a wide range of plant species can find their niche along with numerous kinds of animals, from soil organisms and insects to birds and from deadwood inhabitants to small mammals.
This can all be achieved with what is known as ‘controlled grazing’, which involves year-round grazing and an extremely low livestock density. In August 2016, after the long summer floodwater finally had drained off, 8 cattle found their way into their new grazing area for the first time. Although year-round grazing will not be possible in the project area due to its position in an area impacted by flooding, we expect a positive influence of the grazing period lasting from April to November.
In order to be able to estimate the influence of grazing on the landscape, one cow was equipped with a GPS-logger. Thus we can track the movements of the herd and hopefully separate the effect of the grazing from other landscaping factors as there are floodwaters, subsiding caused by mining and the work of the resident beaver.