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Providing evidence to improve practice

Individual study: Biodiversity management of fens and fen meadows by grazing, cutting and burning

Published source details

Middleton B.A., Holsten B. & Van Diggelen R. (2006) Biodiversity management of fens and fen meadows by grazing, cutting and burning. Applied Vegetation Science, 9, 307-316


This study is summarised as evidence for the intervention(s) shown on the right. The icon shows which synopsis it is relevant to.

Employ areas of semi-natural habitat for rough grazing (includes salt marsh, lowland heath, bog, fen) Farmland Conservation

A 2006 review (Middleton et al. 2006) describes the results of six studies that evaluated the impact of cattle-grazing on fens in Europe. Two studies found that excluding cattle from formerly grazed fens reduced the number of plant species (Bakker & Grootjans 1991, Matějková et al. 2003), with a shift to trees and shrubs sometimes occurring after 10-15 years of abandonment. Benefits of cattle-grazing to fen biodiversity are likely to depend on the level of grazing, although one freshwater wetland study found that grazing intensity hardly affected the number of invertebrate species (Steinman et al. 2003). The authors suggest that low to moderate levels of cattle grazing could maintain or increase the biodiversity of nutrient-rich fens that have not been overgrazed in the past. However, trampling associated with high grazing pressure can lead to soil degradation and two studies found, respectively, that the low stocking density required to avoid negative trampling impacts will often be too low to maintain biodiversity (Schrautzer et al. 2004), and additional measures to remove excess biomass (such as mowing) remain necessary (Kleyer 2004). One study found that mowing resulted in higher species richness than grazing in undrained chalk/limestone (calcareous) fens (Stammel et al. 2003).

Additional references:

Bakker J.P. & Grootjans A.P. (1991) Potential for vegetation regeneration in the middle course of the Drentsche Aa brook valley (The Netherlands). Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft für Ökologie, 20, 249-263.

Matějková I., van Diggelen R. & Prach K. (2003) An attempt to restore a central European species-rich mountain grassland through grazing. Applied Vegetation Science, 6, 161-168.

Stammel B., Kiehl K. & Pfadenhauer J. (2003) Alternative management on fens: Response of vegetation to grazing and mowing. Applied Vegetation Science, 6, 245-254.

Steinman, A.D., Conklin, J., Bohlen, P.J. & Uzarski, D.G. (2003) Influence of cattle grazing and pasture land use on macroinvertebrate communities in freshwater wetlands. Wetlands, 23, 877-889.

Kleyer M. (2004) Freie Beweidung mit geringer Besatzdichte und Fräsen als alternative Verfahren zur Pflege von Magerrasen [Free grazing at low stocking rates and infrequent rototilling as alternative conservation management systems for dry nutrient-poor grasslands]. Schriftenreihe für Landschaftspflege und Naturschutz, 78, 161-182.

Schrautzer, J., Irmler, U. & Jensen, K. (2004) Auswirkungen großflächiger Beweidung auf die Lebensgemeinschaften eines nordwestdeutschen Flusstales [Effects of extensive grazing on species biotic communities of a northwest German river valley]. Schriftenreihe für Landschaftspflege und Naturschutz, 78, 39-62.

Maintain traditional water meadows (includes management for breeding and/or wintering waders/waterfowl) Farmland Conservation

A 2006 review (Middleton et al. 2006) describes eight studies on the impact of cattle-grazing or mowing on wet meadows (or sedge or fen meadows) in Europe. Impacts of grazing were mixed. One study found that the abundance of small mammals in wet meadows was increased by cattle grazing at intermediate intensities (around 0.5 cattle/ha) and reduced by much higher or lower stocking densities (Schmidt et al. 2005). Another study found that reintroducing cattle in a mosaic landscape with wet sedge meadows and drier grasslands reduced species richness, as the dry sites were overgrazed and the wet sites were avoided and remained ungrazed (Bakker & Grootjans 1991). The review describes six studies that looked at the impact of mowing. Four studies found that hand mowing could be used to maintain sedge/water meadows (or fens) (Hansson & Fogelfors 2000, Øien & Moen 2001, Mitlacher et al. 2002, Billeter et al. 2003) and another found that re-instating mowing increased the population of the fen-orchid Nigritella nigra (Moen & Øien 2002). One study found that mowing resulted in higher species richness than grazing on an abandoned fen meadow (Hald & Vinther 2000), while another found that mowing only increased species richness if the species were part of the standing crop, in the seed bank or could disperse to the site (Billeter et al. 2003).

Additional references:

Bakker J.P. & Grootjans A.P. (1991) Potential for vegetation regeneration in the middle course of the Drentsche Aa brook valley (The Netherlands). Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft für Ökologie, 20, 249-263.

Hansson M. & Fogelfors H. (2000) Management of a seminatural grassland: results from a 15-year-old experiment in southern Sweden. Journal of Vegetation Science, 11, 31-38.

Hald A.B. & Vinther E. (2000) Restoration of a species-rich fen-meadow after abandonment: response of 64 species to management. Applied Vegetation Science, 3, 15-25.

Øien D.-I. & Moen A. (2001) Nutrient limitation in boreal plant communities and species influenced by scything. Applied Vegetation Science, 4, 197-207.

Mitlacher K., Poschlod P., Rosén E. & Bakker J.P. (2002) Restoration of wooded meadows: a comparative analysis along a chronosequence on Öland (Sweden). Applied Vegetation Science, 5, 63-73.

Moen A. & Øien D.-I. (2002) Ecology and survival of Nigritella nigra, a threatened orchid species in Scandinavia. Nordic Journal of Botany, 22, 435-461.

Billeter R.D., Hooftman A.P. & Diemer M. (2003) Differential and reversible responses of common fen meadow species to abandonment. Applied Vegetation Science, 6, 3-12.

Schmidt N.M., Olsen H., Bildsøe M., Sluydts V. & Leirs H. (2005) Effects of grazing intensity on small mammal population ecology in wet meadows. Basic Applied Ecology, 6, 57-66.