Action: Restore or create wood pasture
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- One replicated controlled trial in Belgium found that protection from grazing enhanced the survival and growth of tree seedlings planted in pasture.
- One replicated study in Switzerland found that cattle browsing increased the mortality of tree saplings of four species, and reduced average shoot production and total above-ground biomass. Browsing frequency decreased with increasing height of the surrounding vegetation.
Wood pastures are open, low-intensity livestock-grazed woodlands with grassland, often of high conservation value. Due to abandonment or agricultural reversion, they have declined greatly in Europe. Initial tree regeneration is an essential component of restoration but may be hampered by grazing.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A replicated study in May-October 2003 in pastures in the Swiss Jura Mountains (Vandenberghe et al. 2007) found that cattle browsing significantly reduced average shoot production and total above-ground biomass, and increased mortality of tree saplings of four species, whereas mowing had no impact on sapling growth. Browsing frequency decreased with increasing height of surrounding vegetation, and large saplings were browsed much more frequently than small saplings. Silver fir Abies alba was the most frequently browsed species, whilst beech Fagus sylvatica was least frequently browsed. Browsing frequency increased with grazing intensity. Sixteen blocks of eight saplings were planted in two paddocks, one of 3.3 ha and one of 4.5 ha. Each was grazed by twenty-two 18-month-old steers for four periods of 14-17 days. In the 4.5 ha paddock, four 15.5 x 18 m enclosures were set up and split into mown and control plots. Each was planted with four saplings of each species and size class. Vegetation in mown plots was cut to 3 cm five times during the experiment.
A replicated, controlled trial in southern Flanders, Belgium (Van Uytvanck et al. 2008) found that protection from grazing for two years significantly enhanced the survival and growth of planted pedunculate oak Quercus robur and ash Fraxinus excelsior seedlings in wood pasture. Eighteen tree seedlings were planted in each of 56 plots (each 8 m2), across four nature reserves in April 2004. Seedlings were monitored until September 2006. Each plot was half grazed throughout and half ungrazed for two years (until April 2006). The plots either had grassland, rush Juncus spp., sedge Carex spp., bramble Rubus fruticosus or short ruderal vegetation. Seedling survival was higher in ungrazed than grazed plots in grassland and short ruderal vegetation for both tree species, and also in rush-covered plots for oak only. In bramble-covered plots (and sedge and rush plots for ash), there was no different in seedling survival between grazed and ungrazed plots. Seedling growth was significantly higher in ungrazed plots for both ash and oak, except in bramble plots. Bramble thus protected tree seedlings from grazing impacts, but suppressed growth.
- Vandenberghe C., Frelechoux F., Moravie M., Gadallah F. & Buttler A. (2007) Short-term effects of cattle browsing on tree sapling growth in mountain wooded pastures. Plant Ecology, 188, 253-264
- Uytvanck J.V., Maes D., Vandenhaute D. & Hoffmann M. (2008) Restoration of woodpasture on former agricultural land: The importance of safe sites and time gaps before grazing for tree seedlings. Biological Conservation, 141, 78-88