Common grazing areas in the Thuringian Rhön (Thüringer Rhönhutungen)
The objective of this project is to protect, manage, and develop the characteristic habitat types of the Vorderrhön region and to improve ecological networks between them. These habitats include, in particular, xeric grasslands, extensive areas of dry grasslands on basalt, Röt and limestone, 'juniper heaths', rocky commonage grazing areas, arable fields over weathered limestone, and calcareous fens. There are also smaller areas of thermophilic beech, pine, and yew woodlands. The project region contains the most extensive area of colline to submontane nutrient-poor grasslands in Germany with very long drove routes which are still partly intact, and it includes most of the calcareous grasslands of the Vorderrhön region. The individual nutrient-poor grassland sites are ecologically well connected and cover remarkably large areas of approximately 50-300 ha each (e.g. southern slope of the Hohe Geba: > 300 ha).
The extensive, connected, largely unfragmented and structurally heterogeneous habitat complexes host numerous nationally endangered, rare, and characteristic plant and animal species. These include, for example, man orchids (Aceras anthropohorum), musk orchids (Herminium monorchis), black salsify (Scorzonera hispanica), pyramidal bugle (Ajuga pyramidalis), yellow lady's-slipper (Cypripedium calceolus), cross-leaved gentian (Gentiana cruciata) and Venus's-looking-glass (Legousia hybrida). Examples of butterfly fauna include the hermit (Chazara briseis), the clouded apollo (Parnassius mnemosyne), damon blue (Polyommatus damon), dusky large blue (Maculinea nausithous), large blue (Maculinea arion), Meleager's blue (Polyommatus daphnis), turquoise blue (Polyommatus dorylas) and Chapman's blue (Polyommatus thersites).
The entire project area is located within the Rhön Biosphere Reserve. In the framework plan for the Biosphere Reserve the core area and the expansion areas are designated as 'management zones'.
The management strategy aims to optimize and develop an outstanding supra-regional calcareous grassland site network and will include the medium and long-term improvement of the general conditions for shepherding with a view to the long-term management of the calcareous grasslands.