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Keywords:

  • chalk grassland, conservation management, grazing, mowing, natural resource, productivity, restoration phases, semi-natural vegetation, species diversity, The Netherlands

Abstract

This paper is based on research of the restoration of species-rich calcareous grasslands in The Netherlands, over the last 30 years. Chalk grassland is a semi-natural vegetation with a high density of species at a small scale. This type of vegetation was once widespread in Western Europe as common grazing land, mainly for flocks of sheep for which the main function was dung production. In some regions of Central Europe, these grasslands were also used for hay production. The dung was used to maintain arable field production at a reasonable level. In the chalk district in the southernmost part of The Netherlands some 25 sites of this vegetation, varying in area from 0.05–4.5 ha, are still present. Chalk grassland completely lost its significance for modern agricultural production after the wide application of artificial fertilizer following World War II. This grassland has a high conservation value both for plants and animal species, of which a large number of species are exclusively restricted to this biotope. When conservation activities started at a large scale in the early 1960s, three different types of restoration activities could be distinguished: (1) restoration of fertilized sites; (2) restoration of abandoned grasslands; and (3) recreation of chalk grassland on former arable fields. The main aim of the restoration attempt is to create and/or improve sustainable conditions for both plant and animal species characteristic of the chalk grassland ecosystem. In the process of restoration, several phases of different activities can be distinguished: (1) pre-restoration phase, during which information of the land use history is collected and, based on these data, clear restoration goals are established; (2) initial restoration phase, during which effects of former, non-conservational land use has to be undone in order to stimulate germination and establishment of target species originating from soil seed bank and species pool; (3) consolidation phase, including the introduction and continuation of a regular management system for sustainable conservation; and (4) long-term conservation strategy, including measures to prevent disturbance from the outside and genetic erosion and extinction of locally endangered plant populations.