Cease mowing on grassland to allow early succession

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
    not assessed
  • Certainty
    not assessed
  • Harms
    not assessed

Study locations

Key messages

COMMUNITY RESPONSE (7 STUDIES)

  • Community composition (3 studies): Two replicated, site comparison studies in the Czech Republic and Germany found that the community composition of butterflies and moths in grasslands which had been abandoned for >5 years or an unspecified length of time was similar to grasslands managed by mowing or grazing (results not distinguished). One replicated, controlled, before-and-after study in Spain found that after mowing and grazing was abandoned, over 6 years the butterfly community became dominated by generalist species, and species with fewer generations/year.
  • Richness/diversity (6 studies): Four of six replicated, site comparison studies in Germany, Japan, the Czech Republic, Russia and Italy found that grasslands which had been abandoned for 3–13 years, or an unspecified length of time, had a similar species richness of butterflies and burnet moths or all moths to grasslands managed by annual or unspecified frequency mowing, or mown within the last three years (in two studies mowing and grazing were not distinguished). One of these studies also found that grasslands abandoned for 6–13 years had a lower species richness of butterflies than grasslands managed by traditional rotational mowing and burning. One of the studies found that meadows not cut all summer had a higher species richness of butterflies than meadows cut 1–3 times/summer. The other study found that grasslands abandoned for at least 5–20 years had a lower species richness of butterflies than grasslands managed by mowing or grazing (results not distinguished).

POPULATION RESPONSE (13 STUDIES)

  • Abundance (13 studies): Four replicated studies (including one randomized, paired, controlled study and three site comparison studies) in Germany, Spain, Slovakia and Hungary found that grasslands which had been abandoned for >1–20 years had a lower abundance of all butterflies or some species of butterfly and caterpillars, than grasslands managed by mowing once or twice per year (in two studies mowing and grazing were not distinguished). Four replicated, site comparison studies (including one paired study) in Germany, the Czech Republic, Russia and Italy found that grasslands which had been abandoned for >3 years, were temporarily abandoned, or were uncut all summer, had a higher abundance of all butterflies, 11 species of butterfly, Scotch argus adults and meadow neb moth caterpillars, than grasslands managed by mowing annually, 1–3 times/summer, or within the last three years. Two replicated studies (including one controlled, before-and-after study and one site comparison study) in Spain and Germany found that grasslands which had been abandoned for 1–6 years or an unspecified time period had a higher abundance of woodland and hedgerow butterflies and burnet moths, but a lower abundance of grassland or farmland species, than grasslands managed by mowing and/or grazing (results not distinguished). One of these studies also found that silver-studded blue went extinct in some abandoned meadows. Two replicated, site comparison studies in the USA found that in grasslands which had been abandoned for many years abundance was mixed depending on butterfly species compared to grasslands managed by grazing. One replicated, site comparison study in Switzerland found that grasslands which had been abandoned for around six years had a similar abundance of heath fritillary adults and caterpillars to grasslands managed by annual mowing, but that grasslands abandoned for >25 years had a lower abundance of adults and no caterpillars.

BEHAVIOUR (2 STUDIES)

  • Use (2 studies): One replicated, paired, site comparison study in Germany found that grassland which had been abandoned for >5 years had a similar occurrence of hoary bell moth caterpillars to grassland managed by mowing. One replicated, site comparison study in Spain found that grizzled skipper and painted lady occurred less frequently, but small pearl-bordered fritillary occurred more frequently, in meadows which had been abandoned for at least 1–2 years than in meadows managed by mowing or grazing (results not distinguished).

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, paired, site comparison study in 1990–1991 in 21 calcareous grasslands in Northern Bavaria, Germany (Völkl et al. 1993) reported that abandoned grasslands had a higher density of meadow neb moth Metzneria metzneriella caterpillars, and a similar occurrence of hoary bell moth Eucosma cana caterpillars, compared to mown grasslands. Results were not tested for statistical significance. In abandoned grasslands, 2.2–2.5% of greater knapweed Centaurea scabiosa flowerheads contained meadow neb caterpillars, compared to 0–0.3% of flowerheads in mown grasslands. The occurrence of hoary bell was similar in abandoned and mown grasslands (data not presented). Twenty-one grasslands (0.5–2 ha) were either abandoned for at least five years (14 sites, vegetation >25 cm with shrubs) or managed by annual mowing (usually in midsummer, 7 sites, vegetation ~25 cm before cutting). In September–October 1990 and 1991, samples of 100–350 greater knapweed flowerheads/site were collected from seven pairs of mown-abandoned grasslands, and seven (1990) and four (1991) unpaired, abandoned grasslands. Flowerheads were dissected in the laboratory to identify caterpillars.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated, site comparison study in 1994 in 19 traditional hay meadows in Bavaria, Germany (Dolek & Geyer 1997) reported that the abundance and species richness of all butterflies, and of threatened species only, was lower in abandoned meadows than in meadows managed by mowing or grazing. Abandoned meadows had fewer butterflies of all species, and of threatened species alone, than mown or grazed meadows (data not presented). Two out of three abandoned meadows also had lower species richness than mown or grazed meadows (data not presented). Nineteen meadows, which had been managed in the same way for at least 5–20 years, were compared. Three meadows were not managed (abandoned), six traditionally managed hay meadows were mown once/year in July or early August, nine meadows were extensively grazed with sheep, cattle or horses for a few weeks each summer, and one meadow was grazed by sheep throughout the summer. From June–August 1994, butterflies were surveyed along a fixed transect five times in each meadow.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A replicated, site comparison study in 1993–1994 in 16 alpine meadows in southern Switzerland (Schwarzwälder et al. 1997) found that recently abandoned meadows had a similar abundance of heath fritillary Mellicta athalia adults and caterpillars to traditional hay meadows, but old, abandoned, unmanaged meadows had fewer adult males and caterpillars, and a similar number of adult females. The abundance of adult male heath fritillaries and caterpillars on recently abandoned meadows (males peak: 40 individuals/hour; caterpillars: 4–8 individuals/hour) was similar to traditional hay meadows (males: 30 individuals/hour; caterpillars: 0.5–3.5 individuals/hour), but higher than on old, abandoned meadows (males: 21 individuals/hour; no caterpillars). The number of females was not significantly different between meadows (recently abandoned: 14; traditional: 5; old abandoned: 5 individuals/hour). Marked butterflies were recorded moving between all habitat types. Two recently abandoned meadows had been unmanaged for around six years, five traditional hay meadows were mown once/year in June or July, and five old, abandoned meadows had been unmanaged for >25 years. From June–July 1993–1994, adult butterflies were caught and marked for 45 minutes/meadow every other day. In 1994, each meadow was searched for three hours, spread over several days, to record solitary caterpillars.

    Study and other actions tested
  4. A replicated, site comparison study in 1988–1996 in 17 upland prairies in Missouri, Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin, USA (Swengel & Swengel 1997, same experimental set-up as 5) found that abandoned prairies had a higher abundance of four specialist butterfly species , but a lower abundance of three species, than prairies managed by haying, grazing or burning. Of seven prairie specialist butterfly species, four (gray copper Lycaena dione, regal fritillary Speyeria idalia, arogos skipper Atrytone arogos, Poweshiek skipperling Oarisma poweshiek) were more abundant in abandoned, unmanaged areas than in prairies managed by grazing, hayed or burning in at least one of three regions. However, three species were less abundant in abandoned prairies than in hayed (Pawnee skipper Hesperia leonardus pawnee, Dakota skipper Hesperia dacotae) or grazed (Gorgone checkerspot Chlosyne gorgone) prairies. See paper for individual species data. Across 17 prairies (16 to >120 ha), two areas were unmanaged for a long time (abandoned), while six areas were managed by haying (often in rotation), eight by burning on rotation, three by burning and haying, and two by grazing. From 1988–1996, butterflies were surveyed on transects through different management areas at each site. Sites were not surveyed in every year.

    Study and other actions tested
  5. A replicated, site comparison study in 1986–1995 in 104 tallgrass prairies and 141 pine barrens in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota and Wisconsin, USA (Swengel 1998, same experimental set-up as 4) found that abandoned grasslands had a higher abundance of two of 16 specialist butterfly species, but a lower abundance of seven specialist species, than grasslands managed by mowing, grazing or burning. Of 16 prairie or pine barren specialist butterfly species, two (arogos skipper Atrytone arogos, Poweshiek skipper Oarisma poweshiek) were more abundant in abandoned, unmanaged sites than in sites managed by haying or rotational burning. However, seven species were less abundant in abandoned sites than in sites managed by haying (Dakota skipper Hesperia dacotae, pawnee skipper Hesperia leonardus pawnee), mowing (Persius duskywing Erynnis persius), cutting (cobweb skipper Hesperia metea), grazing and haying (regal fritillary Speyeria idalia) or rotational burning (ottoe skipper Hesperia ottoe and dusted skipper Atrytonopsis hianna). Seven species had similar abundance between management types. See paper for individual species data. Of 104 prairies (1–2,024 ha), six had not been managed for many years (abandoned), 61 were managed by cool-season burning on a 2–5-year rotation, of which 21 were additionally mown or hayed; 27 were hayed in summer on a 1–2-year rotation, of which two were also grazed occasionally with cattle and 10 were grazed. Of 141 pine barrens, some were burned by wildfires, some were used for off-road vehicle trails, and some were power line rights-of-way (no further detail provided). From April–September 1986–1995, butterflies were surveyed on transects at each site. Most sites were surveyed more than once/year, and in >1 year

    Study and other actions tested
  6. A replicated, controlled, before-and-after study in 1997–2004 in six meadows in Catalonia, Spain (Stefanescu et al. 2009) found that in meadows where mowing and grazing were abandoned, grassland butterflies decreased while woodland and hedge butterflies increased, and the community became dominated by generalist species and species with fewer generations/year. Over seven years after abandonment, species which prefer grasslands declined in abundance, and species which prefer woodland and bramble hedges increased. The abundance of “generalist” butterfly species (which are able to persist in a wide range of habitats) and species with only one generation/year increased in abandoned meadows, while the abundance of “specialist” species (with specific habitat requirements) and species with multiple generations/year decreased. One grassland specialist, the silver-studded blue Plebejus argus, went extinct in some abandoned meadows. There was little change in the butterfly community in the continuously managed meadow. All data presented as model results. In 1997, six traditional hay meadows (0.55–3.71 ha) were managed normally: two were mown in June, and four were mown in June and August and grazed by cows in winter. From 1998–2004, five of the meadows were abandoned, but the sixth meadow continued to be mown in June and grazed by cattle and horses in winter. From March–September 1997–2004, butterflies were surveyed once/week along a fixed 1,122-m transect through the meadows (117–286 m/meadow), and the total number of each species recorded in each meadow each year was compared.

    Study and other actions tested
  7. A replicated, site comparison study in 2003–2005 in 47 alpine meadows in Picos de Europa, Spain (Dover et al. 2011) found that abandoned or winter grazed meadows had a lower abundance or occurrence of seven out of 44 butterfly species than managed meadows, but one species occurred more frequently in abandoned meadows. In abandoned meadows, the abundance of five species (black-veined white Aporia crataegi, meadow brown Maniola jurtina, small skipper Thymelicus sylvestris, small white Pieris rapae, ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus) was lower than in meadows managed by mowing or grazing (data presented as model results). In addition, two species (grizzled skipper Pyrgus malvae and painted lady Vanessa cardui) occurred less frequently in abandoned meadows than in managed meadows, but one species (small pearl-bordered fritillary Boloria selene) occurred more frequently in abandoned meadows than in managed meadows (data presented as model results). The remaining 36 species did not differ in abundance or occurrence between abandoned and managed meadows. From summer 2003–2005, management was recorded on 47 meadows. Sixteen meadows were either abandoned or only grazed in the winter, 24 meadows were cut for hay and seven were grazed by livestock in summer. The abandoned meadows had different amounts of scrub growing within them. From June–July 2004, butterflies were surveyed nine times on a transect around the edge of each meadow.

    Study and other actions tested
  8. A replicated, site comparison study in 2003–2006 in 16 hay meadows in central Slovakia (Kulfan et al. 2012) found that abandoned meadows had a lower abundance of meadow brown Maniola jurtina butterflies and caterpillars than meadows mown once/year. In unmown, abandoned meadows, the abundance of both meadow brown adults (6–33 individuals/transect) and caterpillars (1–2 individuals/transect) was lower than in meadows mown once/year (adults: 12–81; caterpillars: 10–26 individuals/transect). Meadows mown twice/year had intermediate abundance of both adults (14–45 individuals/transect) and caterpillars (1–8 individuals/transect). Four abandoned meadows had not been mown for 15 years. Four meadows at the edge of oak-hornbeam forests and four open meadows were mown once/year in late June or July. A further four meadows were mown twice/year in late May–early June and from late July–September. From June–August 2003–2005, adult butterflies were counted 4–7 times/year on seven 50-m transects in each habitat type. In May 2005 and 2006, caterpillars were surveyed at night, 1–4 times/year, by sweeping vegetation with a net along ten 50-m transects in each habitat type (60 sweeps/transect).

    Study and other actions tested
  9. A replicated, site comparison study in 2007 in a grassland and woodland reserve in the Czech Republic (Slamova et al. 2013) found that temporarily abandoned grasslands had a higher abundance of Scotch argus Erebia aethiops than grasslands managed by mowing. On temporarily abandoned grasslands, the abundance of Scotch argus males (19 individuals/ha) and females (13 individuals/ha) was higher than on occasionally mown (males: 9; females: 5 individuals/ha) or intensively mown (males: 3; females: 2 individuals/ha) grasslands. The abundance of Scotch argus was also lower on grazed (males: 7; females: 4 individuals/ha) grasslands. Within a 55-ha reserve, 27 grasslands (128–6,072 m2) were either temporarily abandoned, or managed by occasional mowing, intensive mowing, or sheep and goat grazing. On 33 days from July–August 2007, butterflies were caught, individually marked, and recaptured at each site.

    Study and other actions tested
  10. A replicated, randomized, paired, controlled study in 2007–2010 in four meadows in Őrség National Park, Hungary (Kőrösi et al. 2014) found that abandoned grassland had fewer scarce large blue butterflies Phengaris teleius than mown grassland. Three years after abandonment, the number of scarce large blue butterflies in abandoned plots (0.28 individuals/plot/day) was lower than in plots mown once/year (0.86–0.94 individuals/plot/day) or twice/year (0.70 individuals/plot/day). In May 2007, four meadows were each divided into four equal-size plots, and one of four management regimes was randomly applied to each plot. Three plots/meadow were mown for four years, either once/year in May, once/year in September, or twice/year in May and September, all with cuttings removed. The fourth plot in each meadow was abandoned (not mown). In July 2007 and 2010, butterflies were surveyed for five minutes, 15–20 times/year, in each of three or four 20 × 20 m squares/plot.

    Study and other actions tested
  11. A replicated, site comparison study in 2012–2013 in 12 semi-natural grasslands in Nagano Prefecture, Japan (Uchida et al. 2016) found that abandoned meadows had a lower species richness and diversity of butterflies than meadows managed by traditional rotational burning and mowing. In abandoned meadows, the diversity and species richness of threatened (1–2 species/meadow) and common (1–2 species/meadow) butterflies was lower than in rotationally managed meadows (threatened: 6–7; common: 10–12 species/meadow), but similar to annually mown (threatened: 3; common: 4 species/meadow) and annually burned meadows (threatened: 2–3; common: 6 species/meadow) (diversity data presented as model results). Three meadows had been abandoned (unmanaged) for 6–13 years. Three meadows were managed traditionally: each year half of the meadow was burned in April and mown in September, while the other half was unmanaged, and management rotated each year. An additional three meadows had been mown annually in April or August for 8–9 years and three meadows had been burned annually for 7–13 years. From May–September 2012–2013, butterflies were surveyed monthly on three 5 × 30 m plots/meadow.

    Study and other actions tested
  12. A replicated, site comparison study in 2006–2010 in 28 grassland sites in Bílé Karpaty Protected Landscape Area, Czech Republic (Bonari et al. 2017) found that abandoning semi-natural grassland did not affect the species richness or species composition of butterfly and moth communities. Both the species richness and species composition of butterflies and moths were similar in abandoned, unmanaged grasslands and in grasslands which were managed by mowing, grazing or a mix of management types (all data presented as model results). One of four different management practices (abandoned (no mowing or grazing); mown once/year; grazed by sheep, cattle or deer; or ‘mixed’ management) was applied to each of 34 sites (1.5–70.7 ha) for at least five consecutive years. ‘Mixed’ management included mowing different parts of the site at different times, often with patches left uncut for a year, or mowing followed by grazing. From 2007–2010, butterflies and moths were surveyed on >6 visits between April and October in each of two consecutive years to each of 28 sites.

    Study and other actions tested
  13. A replicated, site comparison study in 2015 in 20 grasslands in Saxony, Germany (Ernst et al. 2017) found that abandoned grasslands had a higher abundance of woodland butterflies and burnet moths, but a lower abundance of farmland butterflies and burnet moths, than managed grasslands, but there was no difference in species richness or community composition. In abandoned grasslands, the abundance of 20 species of woodland butterflies and burnet moths (34–44 individuals) was higher than in managed grasslands (17–36 individuals). However, the abundance of 35 species of farmland butterflies and burnet moths was lower in abandoned grasslands (127 individuals) than managed grasslands (195–206 individuals). The species richness of both farmland and woodland species was similar in abandoned (farmland: 13–14; woodland: 5–6 species) and managed (farmland: 14; woodland: 5–6 species) grassland. The community composition was also similar in managed and abandoned grasslands (data presented as model results). Twenty calcareous grasslands (0.90–5.38 ha) were surveyed. Ten were abandoned (not mown or grazed), one was managed by mowing, eight were managed by summer grazing (May–September, <1 animal/ha, with cattle, sheep, goats, horses or donkeys), and one was mown and grazed. From May–August 2015, butterflies and burnet moths were surveyed three times along a 20-minute transect on a 0.8 ha patch at each site. Butterflies and burnet moths were classified as 35 farmland and 20 woodland species.

    Study and other actions tested
  14. A replicated, site comparison study in 2015 in 40 hay meadows in Tyumen Province, Russia (Trappe et al. 2017) found that abandoned meadows had a similar species richness and diversity of butterflies to mown meadows, but a higher abundance of more individual species. On abandoned meadows, the species richness (8.6 species/site) and diversity of butterflies was similar to mown meadows (9.2 species/site, diversity data presented as model results). However, seven species (dark green fritillary Argynnis aglaja, dusky meadow brown Hyponephele lycaon, dryad Minois dryas, swallowtail Papilio machaon, brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni, Esper's marbled white Melanargia russiae, Weaver’s fritillary Boloria dia) occurred at higher density in abandoned meadows on a floodplain than at other sites, compared to four species (ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus, small white Pieris rapae, chestnut heath Coenonympha glycerion, mazarine blue Cyaniris semiargus) which occurred at higher density in abandoned meadows not on the floodplain than at other sites, and no species which occurred at higher density in the mown meadows than in abandoned meadows (see paper for details). Forty hay meadows, >1 km apart, were selected within a 20 × 20 km area. Twenty meadows had been abandoned for at least three years (although often much longer), and 20 had been mown within the last three years. Half of the abandoned sites were located on a floodplain. From June–early August 2015, butterflies were surveyed twice along one 200-m transect/meadow.

    Study and other actions tested
  15. A replicated, site comparison study in 2014–2015 in a mixed farming region in Lombardy, Italy (Luppi et al. 2018) found that meadows which were not cut had a higher abundance and species richness of butterflies than meadows which were cut. The abundance and species richness of butterflies in uncut meadows was higher than in meadows cut once, twice or three times/summer (data presented as model results). See paper for details on individual species groups. In 2014 and 2015, meadows within an arable landscape were cut 0–3 times between April and September each year. From April–September 2014–2015, butterflies were surveyed along 44 transects, divided into 8–26 × 50-m sections. In 2014, thirty transects were surveyed once/month, and in 2015 fourteen different transects were surveyed twice/month. Only transect sections which passed through meadows were included (number not specified).

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Bladon A.J., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2022) Butterfly and Moth Conservation: Global Evidence for the Effects of Interventions for butterflies and moths. Conservation Evidence Series Synopsis. University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK.

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Butterfly and Moth Conservation

Butterfly and Moth Conservation - Published 2022

Butterfly and Moth Synopsis

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