A meadow in bloom instead of a field. An unique experiment by scientists in the large herbivore reserve

2023 - 04 - 30

Scientists have a unique opportunity to observe the transformation a former field into a species-rich meadow on the edge of the large herbivore reserve in the former military training area of Milovice not far from Prague.

In 2018, the 9-hectare plot of land became part of the reserve, which now covers 320 hectares in total. For several years now, scientists have been watching how an area previously intensely cultivated and burdened by agricultural chemicals has been gradually transforming into a species-rich pasture. “The remarkable fact is that the succession of vegetation has been extremely slow so far. We’ve been watching gradual, spontaneous evolution with the use of solely natural processes,” explains Klara Rehounkova from the Department of Botany of the University of South Bohemia.

“Preserving an open character of the site is aided not only by grazing of large herbivores but also by the character of the soil. “In some places the soil is low in nutrients and, in places, it passes into sand soils that host different vegetation than parts of the former field richer in humus, where tall-growing grasses are dominant,” added Miloslav Jirku from the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

The aim of regenerating meadows on the site of the former field through grazing of large ungulates is to verify in practice a low-cost method of converting intensively utilised arable land into natural biotopes that support biodiversity.

In order to verify the possibilities of speeding up the transformation of the former field, where merely maize, rape plant and corn grew a few years ago, into species-rich stands, the scientists scythed diverse meadows around Milovice. They then carried the scythed material on to the former field together with seeds of herbs, which would otherwise reach the site only with difficulty or not at all. This took place as part of a carefully designed experiment. During research, the scientists compare the evolution of areas where the transfer of biomass from surrounding meadows occurred with other places.  “There are more species growing in the places where we transferred the scythed material,” added Klara Rehounkova.

Fallow land on the site of the former field is also an important place for birds of agricultural landscape, which are otherwise disappearing from European nature. “Quails and partridges are abundant throughout the reserve. It is fallow land in particular that is among places where they thrive,” mentioned Dalibor Dostal, Director of the conservation organisation European Wildlife, which established the reserve in 2015.

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