A number of different German Bundesländer (regions) run agri-environment schemes that reward farmers for maintaining their species rich grassland using a results-based approach. In conjunction with farmers, an indicator list of plant key species and a method for the recording of the species richness have been developed to aid the practical implementation of the scheme. These schemes are part of the Bundesländer agri-environment programmes and are funded under the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). Farmers have become very familiar with these schemes and the approach will be extended to other regions from 2015.
One example is the "Kennartenprogramm Mähwiesen und Weiden / Artenreiches Grünland", a scheme operating in Rheinland-Pfalz in the south west of Germany since 2007.
The aim of this scheme is to maintain and promote species rich meadows and pastures. Achievement of these aims is defined by the occurrence of key species ("Kennarten"), which are indicators of species richness and the overall positive state of the biodiversity of these extensively used grasslands. Under this scheme the farmers are free to decide how they manage their species rich grassland, for example when the meadow is mown and if and to what extent to use fertiliser, as long as the key species are present.
Altogether there are 35 key species or taxa that are representative of the whole range of species rich grasslands in Rheinland-Pfalz, from the lowlands to the mountainous regions, from wet to dry and from acidic to calcareous site conditions (see here). The species list comprises species that are easy to recognise and that are indicators of extensive management and high biodiversity, e.g. Polygonum bistorta, Tragopogon pratensis and Salvia pratensis. The method used to determine the species richness of a particular field parcel is the so called ‘transect approach’, which was developed in Baden-Württemberg (see Briemle & Oppermann 2003 in Oppermann & Gujer 2003). The farmer walks across the field parcel along the longest possible transect and notes all key species that occur within one metre either side of the transect line. More detailed information can be found in this brochure from the Agriculture Ministry of Rheinland-Pfalz (see here).
In order to be eligible for support under this "Kennartenprogramm" at least 4 key species must be present within the transect to qualify for the basic scheme (Kennarten Mähwiesen und Weiden) and at least 8 key species to qualify for the higher scheme (Kennarten Artenreiches Grünland). Longer transects do not necessarily lead to greater species occurrence because larger parcels tend to be managed more intensively and therefore in general have lower species richness. The payment rate is €225/ha for the basic scheme and €275/ha for the higher scheme. The farmer records the key species and makes the declaration as part of the standard agri-environment scheme rules. Species richness is documented every year within the 5-year-contract period.
This "Kennartenprogramm" was introduced to take advantage of farmers' traditional knowledge and experience, enabling them to adapt the management of their grasslands to site-specific growth patterns and variable weather conditions. This increased flexibility of when to cut and to fertilise their grasslands was something that farmers asked the Ministry of Agriculture for Rheinland-Pfalz to consider in the design of new agri-environment schemes. The wide acceptance and uptake by farmers and the low rate of declaration errors shows that farmers have become familiar with this type of scheme and that they are comfortable with recording plant species using the transect approach. The controls are carried out as part of the standard control system operating for all agri-environment schemes in Germany.
The benefits of this type of scheme from the farmers' side is that they are free to determine the way they manage their grasslands and can mow as soon as "the grass is high and the weather is good", thereby continuing their traditional management of the meadows. For nature conservation, one of the main advantages of this approach is that flexible management tends to lead to a greater number of species rich grasslands being maintained than a more rigid approach involving fixed mowing dates. From the perspective of scheme administration, it is also often easier to control species richness (normally only one visit is necessary) than to control the frequency of mowing and mowing dates (often several visits are necessary). If farmers wish to manage meadows and pastures for biodiversity that do not have sufficient key species to qualify for the Kennartenprogramm, they can be supported under a classical management-based agri-environment scheme with fixed management conditions (e.g. number of times grass can be cut, and earliest mowing date, etc).
One of the key elements that has helped the implementation of this approach in Rheinland-Pfalz is the availability of good quality advice for farmers on biodiversity issues. Advisors work on a contractual basis in all districts of the country and farmers can receive written information as well as a personal visit from the advisor(s). The biodiversity advisors are familiar with nature conservation and farming practices as well as knowing the farming community in the region and this is important for developing a good relationship between farmers and advisors.
One very positive effect of this results-based approach is that farmers and scheme administrators have increased their understanding of biodiversity issues, which has not been so evident with schemes based exclusively on carrying out a pre-determined set of management actions.. Farmers and sch, public communication of the value of this kind of agri-environmental measure approach is much silers have become increasinglyare quite familiar with theis and are often join in the search for key species by their children, employees and apprentices.
This kind of results-based approach was first introduced in the Bundesland Baden-Württemberg in the year 2000 (Oppermann & Gujer 2003) and similar programs operate also in the Bundesländer Brandenburg/ Berlin, Niedersachsen/ Bremen and Thüringen since 2007. For the period from 2014/2015 the Bundesländer Bayern and Sachsen intend to introduce a similar program.
More information on existing schemes and the way they are implemented across the EU can be found in the inventory of scheme examples. If you would like to discuss this article or post comments, please sign up to our Blog.
Briemle, G., Oppermann, R. (2003): Von der Idee zum Programm: Die Förderung artenreichen Grünlandes in MEKA II. In: Oppermann, R., Gujer, H. (Hrsg., 2003): Artenreiches Grünland bewerten und fördern - MEKA und ÖQV in der Praxis. Stuttgart, 199 S.: S. 26-32.
Oppermann, R., Gujer, H. (Hrsg., 2003): Artenreiches Grünland bewerten und fördern - MEKA und ÖQV in der Praxis. Stuttgart, 199 S..