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

This post is also available in: Polski (Polish)

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 – as a result of which arable land, buildings and semi-natural meadows 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, stronger 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 that it 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.

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