Is savannah the same as greens
Grassland or grassland?
Whether the prairies in North America or the pampas in South America, the savannas of Africa or the huge steppes in Central Asia - they all have one thing in common: They are natural grasslands.
The climate, especially the annual rainfall, is the determining factor. Because where too little rain falls, trees can no longer hold their own. They disappear and smaller plants like grasses take their place. And these grasses create the food basis for large herbivores, some of which graze the grasslands in huge herds.
Our natural grasslands include the salt marshes on the coasts or the alpine regions above the tree line. All other grassland, such as the numerous meadows and pastures, was created through the agricultural use of formerly forested areas. Without the work of humans and the constant hunger of their domestic animals, the grassland could not hold its own.
Even the natural-looking sandy heaths of northern Germany would reforest very quickly without grazing. Of course, this applies even more to the species-poor lawns that cover front gardens, parks and sports arenas. Regular mowing several times a year is the minimum necessary to maintain it.
The story of the meadow
At the end of the Ice Age around 11,000 years ago, the extensive ice masses over Central Europe slowly melted. Where the ice disappears, the tundra begins to expand. Musk ox and reindeer find plenty of food.
With the rising temperatures, the tundra becomes grassland, in which more and more bushes and trees appear, until almost all of Central Europe is forested. The primal grassland has disappeared - and with it the colorful splendor of its flowers.
There are also grass islands in the forest, which owe their existence to the great hunger of bison and aurochs. Together with other herbivores such as elk, deer and roe deer, they eat young trees and bushes and thus create forest-free areas on which grasses and herbs thrive.
But they are not the only living things that are displacing the forest. Around 4500 BC, people in Central Europe became increasingly sedentary. Agriculture and animal husbandry are now the basis of their supply.
For the fields, the forest is cleared and wild animals such as the aurochs are domesticated. In the Alps, livestock and pasture farming has been known since 4000 BC.
With the emergence of the Romans, a settlement period began in the 1st century AD, in which the first major cities in Germany emerged.
A second, much larger settlement followed in the Middle Ages. Numerous new cities are emerging and the number of people is increasing by leaps and bounds. Large areas of forest are turned into fields, meadows and pastures to supply them. The grassland is now increasingly part of the landscape.
Man and meadow
Like bison and aurochs, the first human animals to graze freely in the forests. They eat young trees, bushes and seedlings, and thus loosen up the forest over generations and create a habitat for grasses and herbs.
This form of forest pasture was still widespread 200 years ago. The Hutungen (forest pastures) of the Swabian Alb were not given up until the 20th century. As a food supply for the winter, people "snow" leafy twigs, which are kept in the so-called "arbor" under the roof.
Only gradually does a more intensive form of use develop from these first pastures, the so-called standing pasture, in which the animals graze on the pasture from April to October. The grinds of the Black Forest, as the forest-free heather areas on the hilltops are called, still bear witness to this form of pasture.
Today the so-called rotation pasture is widespread, in which the animals graze on a plot for only a few days, which can then recover for a few weeks.
The hay meadow, where the grass is cut and fed to the cattle as hay in winter, is created relatively late. Until well into the 20th century, the meadows were mowed a maximum of twice a year.
When mowing for the first time, one speaks of hay, which is particularly suitable for horses with its high proportion of grass. The second cut is called an Öhmd. The proportion of herbs is significantly larger in the Öhmd. The feed is accordingly richer in nutrients and protein and ideally suited for dairy cattle. Thanks to plenty of fertilizer, meadows can now be mowed up to six times a year.
The litter meadows in the foothills of the Alps serve a completely different purpose. They are not cut until late in the year and the dried hay is used as litter for the stable. Litter meadows were particularly widespread in regions where straw was rather rare.
The end of the meadow?
Agriculture created and preserved our meadows and pastures for many centuries. Now, however, it is in the process of destroying these diverse and species-rich habitats.
The farmers simply act according to the rules imposed on them by the market. And they are always the same: Producing more and more at ever lower prices. This is almost only possible with large and specialized companies.
The consequences of this development are serious: grassland in unfavorable and unprofitable locations, such as sheep pastures, litter meadows, wet meadows or orchards, is increasingly being abandoned. But without care, the areas become bushy and wooded within a few years and the species-rich flora and fauna of the meadows disappear.
Thanks to mineral fertilizers and powerful machines that enable ever deeper plowing, more and more areas can also be used as arable land. Large areas of grassland disappear under the plow and are replaced by fields of maize or rape.
The remaining meadows will be significantly intensified in their use. There is plenty of fertilization and mowing up to six times a year. In the meantime, it is no longer just about forage, but also about energy generation.
Due to the boom in biogas plants, more and more farmers are switching to intensifying their meadow use. After all, the renewable raw material is well paid for. Only a few meadow plants can cope with this stress and can hold their own.
In addition, more and more meadows and pastures are disappearing through development in metropolitan areas. In figures, for example, the dilemma in Baden-Württemberg looks like this. In the Upper Rhine Plain, around 80 percent of the former grassland has disappeared over the past 50 years. The area of the juniper heath used as sheep pasture in the Swabian Alb has decreased by half.
More than 40 percent of the plant species in grassland are now considered endangered. A problem that can of course also be found in the animal world of the meadows. The biodiversity in particular characterizes the meadow as a habitat. The orchards, for example, are considered to be the most species-rich habitats in Central Europe.
Care and maintenance measures
Are species-rich flower meadows still realistic today? Or are they a relic from times past, when we worked our daily bread with the sweat of our brow and with great hardship? Questions that a nature-conscious person will answer very quickly for themselves.
For a farmer, however, the answer is likely to be much more difficult. After all, he has to master the balancing act between landscape maintenance on the one hand and the profitability of a business on the other. And for this, a meadow must be assessed not only according to the beauty and diversity of its creatures, but also according to its value as fodder.
It takes a lot of experience and knowledge to manage a meadow in such a way that it has a sufficiently high forage output and at the same time a large variety of species.
It is important to create a broad awareness of this performance by farmers - and also to be recognized accordingly. "Meadow championships" were held in Baden-Württemberg in 2005 for the first time, in which species-rich and at the same time high-yielding meadows are awarded.
But the financial aspect must not be forgotten either. In Baden-Württemberg, environmentally friendly agriculture has been promoted as part of the market relief and cultural landscape compensation scheme (MEKA II) since 2000. This includes, among other things, strengthening the promotion of grassland, in which the diversity of plant species plays an important role.
The measures that contribute to the preservation of meadows and their biodiversity are usually quite simple and well-known: fertilize less, mow less, drain less, reintroduce grazing.
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