Bringing back cattle grazing to abandoned farmlands. A lesson from silvopastoral ecological intensification in the landscape of the Carpathian foothills, SE Poland

May 2024
Andrzej Bobiec, łUkasz Kuberski, Renata Tobiasz-salach, Grzegorz Zaguła, Paweł Wolański, Agnieszka Dołęga, Sebastian Wójcik, Taofeek O. Muraina, Robert Borek


Development of the modern, highly specialised and economically efficient, forestry in the 1700s has substantially changed the structural characteristics and dynamics of European woodlands. In particular, the ban on forest grazing that had been almost universally adopted throughout all Central Europe, unleashed the processes of development of shade−tolerant undergrowth, leading to the loss of semi−open woods and to functional, ecological, isolation of forests from the wider landscape context. In a separate development, due the recent socio−economic changes, scores of farmland have been abandoned, turning variegated countryside to feral landscapes, increasingly covered by woody vegetation. Although such changes are in line with recommendations focused on the climate issues, we believe that the ‘ecological intensification’ of the abandoned landscapes may provide more benefits than their permanent abandonment. In order to verify that intuition, we studied ecological features and silvopastoral benefits of a landscape unit in the Carpathian foothills of SE Poland, which, during the last twelve years has been grazed by cattle, let in after the former ten years since the agricultural abandonment. We provide the information on the landscape’s mosaic structure with regard to the habitats use by cattle. In addition, we investigated the animals’ reaction to the exposure of the local arboreal forage, of which the chemistry and nutritional values have been compared to those of the herbaceous one. As shown by the study, cattle can be used as a factor successfully preventing succession and sustaining the balance between wooded and non−wooded habitats. We revealed that the wood−pasture’s tree hay was very attractive to cattle, compensating deficits of the herbaceous fodder. Our study proved that the grazing herd of robust cattle breeds can turn a feral, post−agricultural land into a working wood−pasture, consisting of interconnected open grasslands and various facets of woodland, some of them missing in contemporary high forests. Such landscapes can provide multiple ecosystem services, scarce or absent in abandoned, overgrown farmlands. We advocate, therefore, for the transition management of abandoned farmlands towards the integrated silvopastoral land use, contributing to the land’s economic value and landscape’s ecosystem services, and the restoration of woodland’s characteristics, disappeared in contemporary forests.

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