Wild horses save endangered orchids. Both in nature reserves and in a national park

2022 - 07 - 31

Rare orchids are on the increase in several Central European sites thanks to the grazing of wild horses. This is indicated by the first results of botanical monitoring in natural monuments in eastern Bohemia as well as Podyji National Park near the border with Austria.

The early marsh-orchid began spreading in the pasture in the Baroch location even to places where it had not been found before the grazing started,” said David Číp, chairman of the JARO conservation organisation, which set up the grazing of large ungulates at two eastern Bohemian locations. In the second one, called Plachta, there has been a rise in the numbers of another orchid – broad-leaved marsh orchid – after the grazing started.

Former Baroch Pond has been turned by climatic changes into a periodical wetland with pools. Wild horses were brought into the site to ensure that it does not become overgrown with woody plants. Orchids have shown here how they are able to adapt to grazing. “Hundreds of orchids were in bloom straight among the hooves of wild horses this spring. They came into flower earlier than plants of the same species outside the pasture as they are well sunlit in low-grazed vegetation in the grazing reserve. At the same time, they are not 50 to 60 centimetres tall as usual but only a few centimetres. They responded perfectly to the impact of grazing,” added David Číp.

Also in Podyji National Park orchids thrive in pastures for wild horses, originating from Exmoor, England. After the grazing reserve was set up, the numbers of both the greater-butterfly orchid and the green-winged orchid began to rise. “Richly flowering and fruit-bearing growths indicate positive development. Although it is too soon now for overall assessment of the effect of grazing on this species because the habitat featuring these orchids has only been grazed for two years,” mentioned Miloslav Jirku of the Biology Centre of the Czech Academy of Sciences. Also, it is necessary to monitor the development of other sites for a longer time to rule out other effects such as the weather.

The positive effect of the grazing of wild horses on orchids is good news for this endangered group of flowers. “Regrettably, orchids are dying out in a number of sites in Central Europe. The fact that they can be saved by the grazing of large ungulates, which is also a low-cost method of landscape management, is extremely positive. It raises the hopes that orchids will be successfully preserved in other places as well,” remarked Dalibor Dostal, director of the European Wildlife organisation.

Photo: Miloslav Jirku

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