Pastures and meadows

The landscape of South Tyrol is characterised by thousands of years of landuse. For grazing animals (cows, sheep, goats), man has created extensive pastures on one hand, and meadows on the other. Grasslands are the habitat with the most species on a small scale – worldwide. In a small patch of an extensive meadow we can expect 50 or even up to 100 different plant species. The richness in the diversity of flowers leads to an increased number of butterfly species. Traditional meadows also offer an excellent habitat for many ground-nesting birds like whinchats and corn crakes.
Even small changes in management, such as in fertilisation, can affect the living world not only below but also above the ground. Nowadays, we can observe both an intensification in favoured areas and an abandonment of farming in less favoured ones.
Because of the outstanding importance of meadows and pastures for the local biodiversity, we dedicate a significant part of our surveys to this habitat type.

Meadows are a very heterogeneous habitat category, depending on elevation, mowing frequency, fertilisation, substrate, exposure, inclination, climate, and land use history.
The category is divided into two subcategories:

  • colline to montane meadows: 250 to 1800m a.s.l.
  • subalpine meadows: 1800 to 2200m a.s.l.

Half of all the sampling sites of this category are subsidised by the Province as they possess a high nature value, due to their extensive management. The other half does not get specific subsidies and consists primarily of intensive to semi-intensive meadows.
Usually, the subsidised ones are not or only slightly fertilised and the mowing frequency is lower compared to more intensive ones (maximum 2 cutting events). The first mowing date is relatively late. The non-subsidised meadows on the other hand have a good nutrient supply (fertilisation). The mowing frequency is higher and the date of the first cut in the year is relatively early. In total, we investigate 60 meadows.

Extensively managed meadow in the Matsch/Mazia valley

Extensively managed meadow in the subalpine belt

Globe orchid (Traunsteinera globosa) in Jenesien/S. Genesio

Yellow goatsbeard (Tragopogon dubius) in Seit/La Costa

Pastures can be found in all elevation belts all over the country. In the lower parts of our valleys, pastures are frequently very dry and consist of continental dry meadows dominated by fescues or feather grasses. In the montane belts, the aspect changes and Nardus grasslands are taking over. The highest grazed areas at or above the tree line are, however, already rich in alpine elements. In all elevations, pastures are frequently interspersed with shrubs and trees. Due to this structural diversity, pastures offer niches for many different animal species. Nowadays a considerable share of pastures suffers from the abandonment of grazing animals and subsequent shrub encroachment.
For the Biodiversity Monitoring, we divided the pastures into three different subcategories, depending on their elevation:

  • lowland pastures, below 1000m a.s.l. mostly steppe-like grasslands with a high share of continental elements, typically with Stipa spp., Melica sp., Koeleria sp. and Festuca
  • montane pastures, between 1000 and 1800m a.s.l. Mesic grasslands on both acidic, nutrient poor soils (Violion caninae), and on nutrient rich soils with intermediate pH (Cynosurion)
  • subalpine pastures, between 1800 and 2300m a.s.l. pastures at and below the tree line consist on one hand of Nardus grasslands (Nardion strictae). These grasslands are famous for their rich variety of flowers. In more nutrient-rich and humid situations we can find grasslands dominated by good fodder grasses like Poa alpina and Phleum rhaeticum.

For each subcategory we selected 10 locations, whereby the lowland locations were specifically chosen while the others were selected randomly.

Subalpine pasture, Plätzwiese, view to Hohe Geißl/Croda Rossa

Fly orchid (Ophrys insectifera) near Gossensaß/Colle Isarco

Stipa-dominated dry meadow near Schluderns/Sluderno

Rock rose (Helianthemum nummularium) near Brixen/Bressanone