Increase grazing intensity or cutting frequency on grassland

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

Study locations

Key messages

  • Five studies evaluated the effects on butterflies and moths of increasing grazing intensity or cutting frequency on grassland. Two studies were in Germany, and one study was in each of the Czech Republic, the USA and Israel.


  • Richness/diversity (1 study): One replicated, site comparison study in Germany found that at intensively grazed sites species richness of adult butterflies and burnet moths was lower than at sites with low or no grazing, but caterpillar richness was lower in intensively grazed and low grazing sites than in sites with no grazing.


  • Abundance (5 studies): Four studies (including one replicated, randomized, paired, controlled study, one replicated, site comparison study, and two site comparison studies) in Germany, the USA and Israel found that grasslands managed with more intensive grazing or with grazing in addition to rotational burning had a lower abundance of all adult butterflies, adult burnet moths, adult regal fritillaries and spring webworm caterpillar nests than ungrazed grasslands, lightly or moderately grazed grasslands or rotationally burned grasslands with occasional light grazing. However, one of these studies found that, while intensively grazed sites had lower butterfly and burnet moth caterpillar abundance than ungrazed sites, there was no difference in caterpillar abundance between ungrazed and lightly grazed sites. One before-and-after study in the Czech Republic reported that after increasing the cutting frequency on traditional meadows (under agri-environment scheme prescriptions) the abundance of Danube clouded yellow decreased.


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 site comparison study in 1994 in 19 traditional hay meadows in Bavaria, Germany (Dolek & Geyer 1997) found that the abundance of all butterflies, and of threatened species only, was lower in a more intensively grazed meadow than in extensively mown or grazed meadows. A meadow which was grazed throughout the summer had fewer butterflies of all species, and of threatened species alone, than meadows grazed for a few weeks/year or mown once/year (data not presented). However, the extensively managed meadows had a higher abundance and species richness of butterflies than three abandoned meadows. Nineteen meadows, which had been managed in the same way for at least 5–20 years, were compared. One former hay meadow was grazed by sheep throughout the summer (intensive management), nine meadows were extensively grazed with sheep, cattle or horses for a few weeks each summer, six traditionally managed hay meadows were mown once/year in July or early August, and three meadows were not managed (abandoned). From June–August 1994, butterflies were surveyed along a fixed transect five times in each meadow.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A replicated, site comparison study in 1996 in 18 grasslands in Schleswig-Holstein, Germany (Kruess and Tscharntke 2002) found that species richness and abundance of adult butterflies and burnet moths at intensively grazed sites was lower than at sites with low or no grazing, but the responses of caterpillar richness and abundance to grazing intensity were mixed. Butterfly species richness and abundance were lower at intensively grazed sites (average richness = 2; average abundance = 1 ) than low intensity grazing (average richness = 4; average abundance = 8) and ungrazed (average richness = 7; average abundance = 21) sites. Caterpillar species richness was statistically similar in intensively grazed (average = 2) and low intensity grazing (average = 4) sites, but lower in both than in ungrazed sites (average = 7). Caterpillar abundance was statistically similar between intensively grazed (average = 1) and low intensity grazed (average = 9) sites, but intensively grazed sites had lower abundance than ungrazed sites (average = 12). Intensively grazed sites (6) had an average stocking density of 1.4 cattle/ha annually from May–November, low intensity grazed sites (6) had an average density of 5.5 cattle/ha annually from April–October, and ungrazed sites (6) had not been stocked for 5–10 years. From May–September 1996, at each site separate transect walks were conducted once monthly for adult butterflies and burnet moths (45-minute transects) and caterpillars (45-minute transects in grazed sites and 60-minutes in ungrazed sites).

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A before-and-after study in 1980–2006 in a forest-steppe landscape in the White Carpathians, Czech Republic (Konvicka et al. 2008) reported that increasing cutting frequency on grasslands decreased the abundance of Danube clouded yellow Colias myrmidone. Results were not tested for statistical significance. In the first year of increased cutting, only 11 observations of 26 individual Danube clouded yellows were recorded, compared to 2,345 records in the eight years immediately prior to increased cutting, and 3,838 records in the previous 15 years. In the second and third years of increased cutting, only five and two individuals were recorded, respectively, and these observations were from abandoned pasture outside of the reserves. From the 1970s to the mid-1990s, infrequent mowing and scrub removal were used to prevent succession on 2,457 ha of grassland reserves. From the mid-1990s to 2004, reserves were mown uniformly using national funding, and since 2004 this was increased to two cuts/year on all but 355 ha of grassland. Historical butterfly records were compiled for 1980–1994 and 1995–2002, and butterflies were recorded 3–6 times/year on systematic surveys at prescribed sites.

    Study and other actions tested
  4. A replicated, randomized, paired, controlled study in 2005–2007 in four tallgrass prairies in Missouri, USA (Moranz et al. 2014) found that increasing cattle grazing reduced the abundance of regal fritillary Speyeria idalia, particularly after recent burning. The number of regal fritillaries in grazed prairie (0–14 individuals/ha) was lower than in ungrazed prairie (1–25 individuals/ha) throughout the summer. However, the difference was greatest in prairies which had been burned earlier the same year (grazed: 0–2 individuals/ha; ungrazed: 3–22 individuals/ha). From 2000–2004, four remnant prairies were burned on rotation and occasionally hayed or lightly grazed. In 2005, half of each prairie was randomly assigned to one of two treatments: grazing and rotational burning, or rotational burning only. Each half was sub-divided into three plots (20–34 ha), which were randomly assigned to be burned in either March 2005, 2006 or 2007. The grazed sites were stocked with cattle (2.2 ha/animal unit) annually from April–August. From June–July 2006–2007, butterflies were surveyed three times/year on a transect through each plot.

    Study and other actions tested
  5. A replicated, paired, site comparison study in 2014–2015 on a farm in Galilee, Israel (Berman et al. 2018) found that heavily grazed paddocks had fewer spring webworm Ocnogyna loewii caterpillar nests than moderately grazed paddocks, but grazed paddocks had more nests and solitary individuals than ungrazed paddocks. After 20 years of grazing, the number of caterpillar nests in heavily grazed paddocks (transects: 2.8; plots: 2.1–8.5 nests) was lower than in moderately grazed paddocks (transects: 10.0; plots: 7.1–14.1 nests), but higher than in ungrazed paddocks (transects: 1.1; plots: 0.5–6.1 nests). The number of older, solitary caterpillars was higher in heavily (transects: 23.5–77.0; plots: 2.7 individuals) or moderately (transects: 32.3–36.5; plots: 3.0 individuals) grazed paddocks than in ungrazed paddocks (transects: 6.4–14.2; plots: 1.5 individuals). From 1994, a 1,450-ha farm was divided into paddocks managed permanently by heavy (1.1 cows/ha) or moderate (0.55 cows/ha) grazing, or left ungrazed. In January 2015 and March 2014–2015, caterpillar nests (January) and individuals (March) were counted once/year on three 20-m-long transects in each of two heavily grazed and two moderately grazed paddocks (~27 ha) and in four ungrazed paddocks (0.5–4 ha). Within each of the four grazed paddocks, cattle were excluded from five fenced, 10 × 10 m plots for >10 years. In January 2014–2015, all caterpillar nests were counted in each fenced, ungrazed plot and a paired, grazed plot 3 m away in the surrounding paddock. In March 2015, individual caterpillars were counted in three 30 × 30 cm sub-plots in each grazed and ungrazed plot.

    Study and other actions tested
Please cite as:

Bladon A.J., Bladon, E. K., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2023) 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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