Meadows – why do they matter and how to take care of them

Authors: Krzysztof Kalemba, Kamila Grzesiak, Julia Hava

Meadows are an intrinsic part of the Central European natural and cultural heritage. Their contribution to landscape character, farming, and folklore, make them a very important part of history and in times of global biodiversity crisis- our best allies.

Meadows – what are they and why they matter

Meadows are nowadays defined as semi-natural open areas dominated by grasses and used by humans.

Today we will focus on meadows in Central and Central-Eastern Europe – using Poland as an example.

Considering the origin of meadows, in this geographical area, we distinguish these types of meadows :

  • semi-natural
  • artificial

Mountain meadows with Tragopogon orientalis in Karkonosze Mountains . Photo by Krzysztof Kalemba

Semi-natural meadows call for our care

In the following article, we will focus mainly on semi-natural meadows created with human intervention. Why?

We are writing about them because semi-natural meadows now are often located on private or public land not related to any nature conservation purposes. The fate of these meadows depends on our consciousness as citizens and inhabitants of the areas close by.

Going back to the time before human settlements, in Central Europe, the most stable and dominant landscape was the forest. When people settled, they gradually cleared it. That changed the landscape, in place of the forest appeared buildings, farming land and semi-natural meadows, which developed over time. The meadows developed in this way are partly dependent on humans. Today, buildings are becoming denser and denser, and the intensity of cultivation, the use of pesticides and fertilisers in the neighbourhood and climate change on top of that are having a very negative impact on the meadows. Therefore – we should triple our efforts to take care of them.

Mowing meadows in Uniemyśl . Fot Krzysztof Kalemba

The importance of meadows for a human

As humans, we are indirectly dependent on the meadows.  This is not apparent at first glance because many relationships in ecosystems are extremely complex. However, this particular relationship is not that difficult and important to understand. Meadows are home and refuge for pollinators. Crops and the stability of ecosystems depend on pollinators, and we depend on crops and certain stability in ecosystems. This is why the protection of this type of environment is so important. 

The importance of meadows can be seen of course, in terms of the value of this type of landscape and for human inhabitants also their identity. The mosaic of fields, meadows and forests is considered for instance – traditional Polish landscape represented in paintings etc. 

In a more abstract sense, the existence of meadows as such can also be appreciated – by imagining a world without them.

We need to act here and now, regardless of what we think is the most important reason. That’s why as part of the Apollo2020 LIFE project, we encourage you to see the biodiversity of the grasslands as your local heritage and learn how to take care of it.

Meadows with Phleum pratense in Rocky Mountains / Sudetes. Fot. Krzysztof Kalemba

 Caring for the Meadow- what we can do

If we want to preserve semi-natural meadows as a home for pollinators and other organisms, we need to look after them. A meadow does not have it easy when it is affected by drought or when plants, more potent than its permanent inhabitants- appear. Meadows should be supported in a specific way – these are: mowing, collecting biomass, and grazing animals – but extensively- because intensive grazing is not beneficial for a meadow. It is also important to ensure that the meadow does not lose water and is not overgrown by trees and shrubs.

If we follow these rules- with time it will need a little dose of human help will be needed. A  healthy meadow will be recognised by the diversity of its plants. These will allow insects to live well and us to appreciate the richness of colours, smells and sounds.

Apollo – A traffic stopper

The clouded Apollo (Parnassius mnemosyne), cousin of Parnassius apollo, is also threatened by habitat loss in Europe.

Once widespread across the state of Baden-Württemberg in Southern Germany, it is now only found in two valleys in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of the Swabian Jura. In one of these remaining strongholds, the Mühltal valley near Münsingen and Schelklingen, authorities closed district 7410 road between the two towns for a week of major habitat management.

Supporting measures

The clouded Apollo exclusively lays its eggs on Corydalis plants, on which the hatched caterpillars feed. The Biosphere reserve has undertaken research and habitat management measures for Parnassius mnemosyne for 8 years. After research on potential habitat for the butterfly in the Mühltal, experts found that Corydalis was very common around the 7410.By cutting back the plants, they are hoping to create ideal conditions for the clouded Apollo along the busy stretch of road. Similar activities in nearby Springen have yielded great results, with just two butterflies growing to a population of 153 in a few years.

These activities will not only support clouded Apollo conservation. Species such as the southern white admiral and the pearl-bordered fritillary will also benefit from these measures. At the slight inconvenience of prolonging car travel for a week, several butterfly species will have an increased chance of survival in the area. If more local or national authorities made decisions that put species conservation first, we would save many more butterfly species.

Picture: Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

#followapollo and the efforts of our team! Combined skills in breeding, conservation of habitats, research, environmental education, and project management constitute a great combination for the success of our LIFE project

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How to #followapollo in real life (or not)

Have you ever seen red and white dots as hiking markers? The red-and-white dot has been a companion of mountaineers in Slovenia for almost 100 years. If you look closely at them, you can recognize the legendary dot of Apollo’s wings.

The inventor of this marking system was Alojz Knafelc. The Slovene cartographer and mountaineer got inspired by the Apollo butterfly and created the Slovene trail blaze. Originally, the paths in the mountains were marked only with stone mounds, which the guides placed in key places.

The first trail marked with a red and white dot in Slovenia was led in 1879 from Bohinj via Komarča to Triglav. The Knafelc blaze, introduced in 1922, is a white dot inside a red ring. The outer diameter should be between 8 to 10 cm (3.1 to 3.9 in), with the inner radius about half of the outer radius. If a mountaineer finds himself at a crossroad, on a rock, or does not know which direction is the right one, Knafl’c marking quickly saves him from torment.

#followapollo in East Tyrol

Each year in spring tourists come to the Defereggental valley to go on the panoramic path “Im Reich des Apollo” (“In the kingdom of Apollo”). The highest point here is 1,400 m a.s.l. the hamlet of Rajah. The road goes all the way along towards the forest on the sunny side of the Defereggen Valley, which is the perfect place to see some Apollo butterflies in their natural habitat.

The High Tauern National Park is home to hundreds of species of insects. The sunny meadows above the valley which alternate with wetter areas attract a range of various butterflies. The Apollo is found in parts of Southern Germany and the Alps, Central Europe, and the Balkans, as well as the Mediterranean and Scandinavia. Its range extends southwards to Turkey and eastwards to Central Asia.

When the Apollo is just in the name

Parnassius apollo is a popular and highly protected species in Europe. Still, some people get confused about his name. In western culture, the Apollo space mission is really popular. You can find songs and posters with famous Neil Armstrong’s quote “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

Apollo Park which lies in the heart of Milson, Michigan State, is named exactly after the Apollo spaceship mission. It has a large playground with an enormous rocket, which children can climb in and on and be spun. Ironically, this park is also well-known as Butterfly Park. During a visit, visitors be able to spot Monarchs, Red and Yellow Admirals, NZ Coppers and Little Blies. No Apollo though…

Get to know more fun facts on the Apollo universe and read an article about the full history of Parnassius apollo’s name.

#followapollo and the efforts of our team! Combined skills in breeding, conservation of habitats, research, environmental education, and project management constitute a great combination for the success of our LIFE project

Subscribe to our newsletter and receive the latest news on butterfly conservation!

What‘s in a name?

A butterfly of such a spectacular appearance has to have an impressive name. Although the exact reasoning behind its name is not clear, we can speculate why it’s called Parnassius Apollo.

Roots in mythology?

Both components of the name come from Greek. Parnassus is the name of a mountain in central Greece known as the mythological home of music and poetry. The mountain was sacred to Apollo and the Corycian nymphs and was the home of the Muses. Accordingly, in ancient Greek mythology Apollo was one of the most revered deities in mythology. He was known as the patron of the muses and arts, healer, and soothsayer. 

So how are the greek god and the butterfly related? This is not known for sure. Maybe the butterfly deserved such an honor due to its appearance. Apollo has always been considered the standard of beauty and attractiveness. The god was often described in the form of a young and beautiful young man, having a long list of love affairs. Among other things, the golden-haired god also personified the sun. So there is a possibility that the Apollo butterfly got its name for its love of warmth and sun-bathed alpine meadows. The butterfly is only out in good weather. When it is cloudy, it prefers to hide in a shelter.

Spreading beyond Earth’s orbit?

The butterfly is not the only one bearing the name. It is wildly used throughout Earth and further. The most famous example is a human spaceflight program Project Apollo run by NASA. The program succeeded in preparing and landing the first humans on the moon. Apollo set several major human spaceflight milestones. It stands alone in sending crewed missions beyond low Earth orbit. Moreover, the Apollo program transferred a massive amount of lunar rocks and soil to Earth, greatly contributing to the understanding of the Moon’s composition and geological history. It spurred advances in many areas of technology incidental to rocketry and human spaceflight, including avionics, telecommunications, and computers.

Extraterrestrial objects also carry the name. Apollo is called an enormous impact crater in the southern hemisphere on the far side of the Moon. And there is the 1862 Apollo asteroid. It is the namesake and the first recognized member of the Apollo asteroids, a subgroup of NEOs which are Earth-crossers. These are near-earth objects that cross the orbit of the Earth when viewed perpendicularly to the ecliptic plane.

Reflection in art?

The butterfly appearance is indeed a work of art worthy of the god’s name. Over the centuries Apollo, of course, was reflected in art multiple times. Thus, visitors can admire a 1.46 m unfinished marble sculpture of Apollo created by Michelangelo in the Bargello Museum in Florence. Stanisław Wyspiański designed a stained glass window depicting a god of the sun in 1904. It can be found in the Medical Society house in Krakow. And between 1927 and 1928 Igor Stravinsky composed a neoclassical ballet called Apollo.

Music didn‘t stay apart. The name was used by several bands, and music labels. It was also used in the names of music albums, such as, for example, Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks. This is the ninth solo studio album by British ambient musician Brian Eno, released in 1983 and inspired by the Apollo program. Also, a song called Apollo was performed by Swiss band Timebelle and represented Switzerland in the Eurovision Song Contest 2017. It was devoted to love and devotion to the arts and includes the refrain “I follow you Apollo”.

Taking a rightful place?

Apollo is quite a popular name used in different areas and for different species, too. A German Shepherd Dog that assisted with the rescue operations after the September 11 terror attacks was named Apollo. It was the first search and rescue dog to arrive at the site. At one point, Apollo was almost killed by flames and falling debris. However, he survived, having been drenched after falling into a pool of water just before this incident. It started working again as soon as his human partner had brushed the debris off him. In recognition of the work done Apollo was awarded the Dickin Medal, the animals’ equivalent of the Victoria Cross.

Looks like the butterfly is in good company and can pass the legacy and inspiration behind the name to the next in line.