Flowers from the Red List of Endangered Species have been helped by the grazing of wild horses and European bison, scientific research has shown

2022 - 01 - 27

In The grazing of wild horses and other large ungulates in the former military area  Milovice, near Prague, has helped increase numbers of rare flowers in the location which are included on the Red List of Endangered Species of the Czech Republic. Over the course of seven years, it has also turned the originally monotonous covers of a few grass species into species-rich flowery meadows. This was shown by research conducted by scientists of the Institute of Botany of the Czech Academy of Sciences. At the same time, not only is the actual increase in the number of plant species and the spread of the rare ones notable, but also the vast area on which such a positive change thanks to large ungulates has occurred.

The difference in the vegetation of the pastures compared to the surrounding ungrazed areas may be seen by every visitor of the reserve, not only experts. “For example, attentive visitors may spot well-distinguishable clumps of the cross gentian, which, in places, grow within hand’s reach of the edge of the reserve,” pointed out Miroslav Dvorsky of the Institute of Botany of the Academy of Sciences.

Since 2017, scientists have been monitoring how precisely the composition of the vegetation in the reserve for large ungulates changes thanks to grazing. The increasing presence of rare herb species is one of significant indicators of the biological value of meadow biotopes. The results of the long-term botanical research in the reserve for large herbivores have shown that there are markedly more rare herbs on the pastures than in areas without grazing. The fact is that at the beginning of the research, there was no statistical difference in the presence of rare species between areas where grazing took place and areas where it did not.

The data showed that the numbers of rare species on the pastures had been gradually rising. 2021 was a breakthrough year as the difference in the presence of rare herbs between grazed and ungrazed areas became statistically significant. “This proves that it is not an impression but a developmental trend corroborated by hard data,” stated Miloslav Jirku of the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences.

The rare herbs that are found in the monitored areas include, for example, Carlina biebersteinii and dragon’s teeth. Other rare species were the common centaury, stemless thistle, sulphur cinquefoil, Dorycnium herbaceum, Deptford pink and the rarest species and only one protected by law of all the species discovered, the cross gentian.

The reserve for large ungulates thus created an abundantly flowering island of varied landscape in the middle of extensive areas of intensively cultivated agricultural land. “The reserve for large ungulates is one of the largest islands of this sort in the Czech Republic, where many rare species do not languish but flourish in large populations. Thanks to its expanse, it represents a gene bank in which these species have a chance to survive,” Miloslav Jirku added.

The positive transformation of the originally degraded sections of the former military area following the introduction of grazing of large ungulates has confirmed that if the right care is set up, it is possible to save vanishing species in the landscape and preserve them in numbers high enough for their survival. “Climate change dramatically transforms various habitats. Small habitats are considerably more endangered than fairly extensive landscape units. That’s why in order for rare species to survive it is important that places where they are still found in fairly large numbers and in large areas are preserved,” emphasised Dalibor Dostal, director of the European Wildlife conservation organization.

The reserve for large ungulates was established in the former military training area Milovice in 2015. Herds of wild horses, European bison and back-bred aurochs help restore and preserve the landscape in it. At present, it covers an area of about 350 hectares.

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