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The aims of this paper were to find the effects of artificial fertilizer, intensive cultivation and abandonment with afforestation on species composition of traditional meadows at a broad scale, and to describe the ecological variation of different meadow communities. The flora of 21 traditionally managed hay meadows was compared with that of 52 artificially fertilized hay meadows, 28 intensively cultivated grasslands and 29 afforested grasslands by means of classification. Predictors for differences in species composition were tested using multiple regression analyses with associated Monte Carlo permutation tests. Habitat diversity and Ellenberg N were the most important predictors for differences in species composition of traditional meadows. High habitat diversity was associated with maximum occurrences of all kinds of meadow species (high-productive, generalist, low-productive, habitat specialist, regionally rare, vulnerable and orchid species). These meadows are therefore of high conservation value. Traditional meadows contained also some nitrophilous species that dominate artificially fertilized meadows, but in small populations. Artificially fertilized meadows supported the generalist and productive subset of the species from traditional meadows. Thus, artificially fertilized meadows are of low conservation value. As regionally rare and vulnerable species were only recorded at sites with no use of artificial fertilizer, its application should be avoided whenever the aim is to recreate or maintain semi-natural grasslands of high conservation value. Regionally rare and vulnerable meadow species were not recorded in afforested sites, suggesting that afforestation of traditional meadows may have similar negative effects for the traditional meadow flora as the use of artificial fertilizer.