Volume 24, Number 8, December 2004
Page(s) 447 - 462
Agronomie 24 (2004) 447-462
DOI: 10.1051/agro:2004041

Long-term impacts of extensification of grassland management on biodiversity and productivity in upland areas. A review

Carol Ann Marriotta, Michael Fothergillb, Bernard Jeangrosc, Michele Scottond and Frédérique Louaulte

a  The Macaulay Institute, Craigiebuckler, Aberdeen AB15 8QH, UK
b  The Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research, Plas Gogerddan, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion SY23 3EB, UK
c  Station fédérale de recherches en production végétale de Changins, 1260 Nyon, Switzerland
d  Università degli Studi di Padova, Agripolis, Viale dell'Università 16, Legnaro 35020, Italy
e  INRA-Unité Agronomie, Site de Crouël, 234 avenue du Brézet, 63039 Clermont-Ferrand Cedex, France

(Received 29 April 2003; accepted 18 May 2004)

Abstract - Modern rural policies that incorporate agricultural and environmental aims within the broader framework of sustainable rural development are being formulated to address the problem of declines in grassland biodiversity and the destruction of sensitive landscapes and habitats in Europe. Extensification is the process of reducing fertiliser inputs, management intensity and stocking rates, and is central to these sustainable rural policies. However, research in the Less Favoured Areas of Europe has been fragmented and highly variable reflecting the different uses and requirements of our upland areas. Information is needed to determine the nature and timescale of changes in such systems, and whether extensive management is sustainable in the long-term. This paper presents results from a range of grassland extensification experiments across Europe, mainly within the European Union, over the past 30 years that quantify the impacts on soil, plant and animal components of the system. All have the common theme of changing the focus of land management from solely the agricultural product to include a broader range of ecological and environmental objectives. Beneficial changes in biodiversity resulted from more extensive management treatments, but at the cost of reductions in total animal output, and in some cases a reduction in individual animal performance. However, it is clear that it is a long-term process to achieve many of these changes in biodiversity, and this must be recognised by policy makers. We recommend that future extensification studies adopt an approach that will allow their results to be applied throughout Europe.

Key words: biodiversity / cutting / fertiliser reduction / grazing / plant species composition

Corresponding author: Carol Ann Marriott

© INRA, EDP Sciences 2004