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Grassland conservation in Germany

Importance of grassland

With more than 5 million hectares, grassland accounts for more than a quarter of farmed land in Germany. In many regions, large areas of grassland define the appearance of the countryside. Grassland is an indispensable part of modern multifunctional agriculture. Alongside food and non-food production, grassland has great value to human society in conserving biodiversity and for leisure and recreation. More than half of all plant species found in Germany depend on grassland habitats. 44 percent of grassland species are threatened or already extinct in the wild.

Grassland loss in Germany

Since 2003, the proportion of farmland accounted for by permanent grassland in Germany has shrunk by about five percent. Grassland is increasingly being ploughed up – sometimes in places where this is undesirable in terms of conservation, environmental and notably climate policy. This includes sensitive sites such as Natura 2000 protected areas, peatlands, charted habitat sites and river floodplains.

Renewable energy policy with its biomass-related incentives and pricing arrangements is a key factor favouring the ploughing up of grassland and intensified grazing of the grassland that remains. Even marginal sites are affected by this trend. The processes leading to intensified farming and land use change are parallelled by the abandonment of sites with unfavourable conditions for farming. As a result of quantitative and qualitative grassland loss, Central Europe is losing highly diverse habitats and with them many threatened plant and animal species. Ploughing up grassland also releases vast amounts of carbon dioxide as well as resulting in increased leaching nutrient leaching and hence water nutrient pollution. There is also greater risk of erosion in susceptible locations.

Grassland in agricultural policy

In future, grassland conservation will come under the CAP greening rules. The old cross-compliance rules on grassland conservation run out at the end of 2016. Grassland belonging to organic farms (about 560,000 hectares, or some 12.1 percent) and to farms that do not receive any agricultural subsidies (or direct payments) does not come under the greening requirements and is no longer subject to the ban on ploughing up grassland from 2017. To meet the greening requirements, in each of the German Länder, the percentage of grassland relative to the area of arable land must not decrease by more than five percent compared with 2012. This leaves scope for more grassland to be ploughed up, even though a number of Länder already reached their limit for grassland loss in the period before. A number of Länder (such as North Rhine-Westphalia, Baden-Württemberg, Rhineland-Palatinate and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania) already have a strict ban on ploughing up grassland. Exceptions are allowed only in very limited cases subject to approval. A strict ban will only apply in Habitats Directive sites and not in Birds Directive sites, even though a ban is urgently needed for the latter as well.

Recent BfN activities on grassland

Publication of the BfN Grünland Report , “Alles im Grünen Bereich?”

Expert report: "Vorschläge zur Ausgestaltung von Instrumenten für einen effektiven Schutz von Dauergrünland" (suggestions for the design of instruments for the effective conservation of permanent grassland)

Conference on the Island of Vilm: "Cancen für den Grünlandschutz in der GAP nach 2013" (opportunities for grassland conservation under the CAP after 2013)

Projects: Brodowin conservation farm, land kept fallow for nature conservation purposes, etc.

 

Last Change: 09/04/2018

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