Mountain grasslands: an endangered habitat
Grasslands cover 15.9% of the area of the EU-28 and are the third most widespread habitat (EC, 2016) with invaluable contribution for public goods and ecosystem services (Plantureux et al., 2016). Yet, today more than 75% of the grassland area in the EU-28 is considered to have an unfavourable conservation status (EEA, 2020).
In mountains, several trends hinder the conservation status of mountain grasslands and their preservation. They include socio-economic trends – such as land abandonment (AGRESTE, 2015), loss of knowledge due to an ageing population (CoR, 2016), the continuous decline of agricultural revenues and activities (EC, 2009; Gløersen et al., 2016), the intensification of management practices (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2010)-, as well as climate trends – such as rising temperatures (Di Bari et al., 2015, Leonelli et al., 2011), decreased water availability (Menegalija, 2017) and extreme weather events. Because of this, solutions to foster the preservation of mountain grasslands need to address not only the environmental conservation of this habitat, but also its socio-economic challenges.
A study and booklet on the sustainable management of mountain grasslands
In the framework of the EU-funded project LIFE OREKA MENDIAN, Euromontana published the study “Overview of sustainable practices for the management of mountain grasslands” (2021, Figure 1). This study investigates the driving forces beyond grasslands’ deterioration, the political context as well as it identifies 31 on-the-ground practices to preserve and sustainably manage mountain grasslands across different European mountains, also detailed in a separate booklet (Figure 2).
The OREKA MENDIAN practices provide some leading examples to innovate on grassland management, including pastoral activities, through a number of social, digital and organisational innovations. For instance, the result-based payments for biodiversity, Making good Nature payments for ecosystem services in Romania, or E-Barana virtual fences for livestock in Spain or the pastoral school Artzain Eskola in the Spanish Basque Country.
Based on the contextual findings of the OREKA MENDIAN study and its good practices, Euromontana pointed out a number of knowledge gaps and recommendations for researchers to support the transition towards the sustainable management of mountain grasslands.
Gaps and recommendations to advance research on mountain grasslands
Knowledge gap 1: Landowners and local stakeholders are often insufficiently aware about the causes and impacts of biodiversity loss in the medium and long-term, such as uncontrolled expansion of shrubs and trees.
- Recommendation for researchers: Raise awareness on this issue for instance by producing publications targeted for farmers, as well as by carrying out impact assessment and foresight analysis of grassland evolution.
Knowledge gap 2: Many different micro-climates of mountain areas, as well as territorial differences, make it complicated to apply national climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies at the local level.
- Recommendation for researchers: Provide sufficient economic, scientific and technical support to tailor national approaches to the specific characteristics of their territories, such as the structure of grasslands (i.e. distribution of species and soil types), populations of pests and disease-causing organisms etc.
Knowledge gap 3: The contribution of mountain grasslands to ecosystem services and public goods is insufficiently explored.
- Recommendation for researchers: Better estimate the value of ecosystem services and public goods in order to evaluate and promote the remuneration of grassland management with some caution regarding the ethical debate about valuing Nature.
Knowledge gap 4: Social and technological innovations can be employed to increase the farmer’s quality of life by avoiding stress, reducing time spent on the mountain pastures and saving on other costs.
- Recommendation for researchers: Contribute to identify, develop and disseminate these innovations in order to ensure help famers will adequately make use of them.
Knowledge gap 5: General public has often biased information about the implications of the return of large carnivores for livestock farmers and rural societies, generally more based on impressions that scientific data.
- Recommendation for researchers: Develop quality information, through scientific studies, and not dogmatic, to support political decisions and inform general public on large carnivores’ return and their consequences on livestock and thus on grasslands. They must be based on the best available knowledge in the natural and social sciences and on a sufficiently broad experimental basis to be replicable. There is in particular the need to detail the particular situations of the case studies analysed on pastoralism and large carnivores in order to understand local conditions and to see to what extent good examples are effective and replicable or not to other territories.
To further support these research needs, in the 2021-2027 period, different European programmes (e.g. LIFE, Horizon Europe, cross-border Interreg programmes) can be used to finance collaborative research, coordination and innovation projects on grassland management and related issues, and hence to close existing knowledge gaps.
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Committee of the Regions (2016). The impact of demographic change on European regions.
Dibari C., Argenti G., Catolfi F., Moriondo M., Staglianò N., Bindi M. (2015) Pastoral suitability driven by future climate change along the Apennines. Italian Journal of Agronomy, 10(3): 109-116
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