Change season/timing of vegetation harvest: freshwater marshes

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
  • Certainty
  • Harms

Study locations

Key messages

  • Three studies evaluated the effects, on vegetation, of harvesting vegetation from freshwater marshes in different seasons or at different times. There was one study in Switzerland, one in Belgium and one in Japan.


  • Community composition (1 study): One replicated, randomized, paired, controlled study in wet meadows in Switzerland reported that summer-harvested and winter-harvested plots experienced similar changes in their overall plant community composition, over 3–4 years.
  • Overall richness/diversity (1 study): One replicated, paired, controlled study of wet grasslands in Belgium reported that the effect of a single harvest between June and November on overall plant species richness depended on the month of harvesting.


  • Overall abundance (1 study): One replicated, paired, controlled study of wet grasslands in Belgium reported that the effect of a single harvest between June and November on overall vegetation abundance (including litter) depended on the month of harvesting.
  • Individual species abundance (3 studies): All three studies quantified the effect of this action on the abundance of individual plant species. The studies all reported that individual species’ abundances responded differently to harvesting in different seasons. For example, the controlled, before-and-after study in Japan reported that harvesting in June reduced the abundance of common reed Phragmites australis, in the following summer, more than harvesting in July.


  • Overall structure (1 study): One replicated, randomized, paired, controlled study in wet meadows in Switzerland reported that summer-harvested and winter-harvested plots both experienced a shift in vegetation cover towards lower vegetation layers, over 3–4 years.
  • Diameter/perimeter/area (1 study): The same study reported that summer harvesting and winter harvesting had opposite effects on the diameter of common reed Phragmites australis shoots: they became thinner over four years of summer harvests but thicker over three years of winter harvests.

About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A replicated, randomized, paired, controlled study in 1983–1986 in two wet meadows in Switzerland (Buttler 1992) reported that summer and winter harvesting had similar effects on overall plant community composition and structure, but different effects on some individual plant species. Statistical significance was not assessed. Over 3–4 years, plots harvested in summer and winter experienced similar changes in overall plant community composition (partial data reported as a graphical analysis). Both harvest regimes were associated with a significant increase in the proportion of vegetation in lower layers. This was true for vegetation overall, and the dominant species in each community (partial data reported, as number of times survey pins touched living vegetation). Some individual species responded differently to each harvest regime. For example, common reed Phragmites communis developed more, thinner shoots and lower above-ground biomass over four years of summer harvest, but developed fewer, thicker shoots and greater above-ground biomass over three years of winter harvest (see original paper for partial data). Methods: Two pairs of plots (each 121–169 m2) were established in two historically mown, but abandoned, lakeside wet meadows. In each pair, one random plot was mown in winter (from early 1983) and one random plot was mown in late summer (from 1983). Cuttings were removed. Vegetation was surveyed each summer 1983–1986 (before harvest, where applicable).

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated, paired, before-and-after study in 1986–1988 in five wet grasslands in Belgium (Dumortier et al. 1996) reported mixed effects of single annual harvests, between June and November, on plant species richness and biomass. Statistical significance was not assessed. Over two years, plant species richness increased in plots harvested between July and October (from 15–19 to 18–20 species/6 m2). It declined in plots harvested in November (from 19 to 18 species/6 m2) and was stable in plots harvested in June (17 species/6 m2). Total above-ground biomass (including litter) declined in plots harvested between August and October (from 550–730 g/m2 to 480–560 g/m2). It increased in plots harvested in June, July or November (from 310–660 g/m2 to 410–780 g/m2). The study also reported data on the cover of some example individual plant species (see original paper). Methods: In spring 1986, six 7 x 7 m plots were established in each of five adjacent wet grasslands (mown annually for the previous 10 years). From 1986, one plot/grassland was mown in each month between June and November. Cuttings were removed. Plant species were recorded each summer between 1986 and 1988. Biomass was cut and collected from five 30 x 30 cm quadrats/plot/year, immediately before mowing (so not at the same time in all plots), then dried and weighed.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A controlled, before-and-after study in 2000–2001 of a riparian reedbed near Tokyo, Japan (Asaeda et al. 2006) reported that harvesting in June suppressed common reed Phragmites australis biomass and density more, over the second growing season after cutting, than harvesting in July. Unless specified, statistical significance was not assessed. Before harvest, common reed abundance was statistically similar in both plots (density: 91–102 shoots/m2; above-ground biomass: 40–660 g/m2). In the first growing season after harvest, common reed abundance showed similar responses in both June-harvested and July-harvested plots: initial decline, then recovery to similar levels (see original paper for data). In the second growing season after cutting, June-cut plots contained fewer reed shoots than July-cut plots at four of six time points (for which June-harvested: 140–156 shoots/m2; July-harvested: 168–218 shoots/m2) and less reed biomass at three of seven time points (for which June-harvested: 370–800 g/m2; July-harvested: 710–1070 g/m2). At all other times, reed abundance was similar in June- and July-harvested plots. Methods: In April 2000, two 6 x 10 m plots were established in a mature riparian reedbed. Reeds were cut in early June 2000 in one plot and early July 2000 in the other (20–30 cm above ground level). Cuttings were removed. Reed shoots were cut, counted, dried and weighed every 1–2 months between April and December 2000 and 2001 (three 0.125-m2 quadrats/plot/survey).

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Taylor N.G., Grillas P., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2021) Marsh and Swamp Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions to Conserve Marsh and Swamp Vegetation. Conservation Evidence Series Synopses. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

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Marsh and Swamp Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Marsh and Swamp Conservation
Marsh and Swamp Conservation

Marsh and Swamp Conservation - Published 2021

Marsh and Swamp Synopsis

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