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Biodiversity management of fens and fen meadows by grazing, cutting and burning

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Question: Can the biodiversity of fens in Europe and North America be maintained through the use of grazing (especially cattle grazing), fire, and/or cutting?

Location: European and North American fens.

Methods: This paper is a review of the literature on the effects of grazing, fire and cutting on fens, to explore the relationship between management and biodiversity in fens.

Results: A reduction of cattle grazing, mowing and burning in fens has led to a reduction in biodiversity in fens. The vegetation of abandoned fens shifts to trees and shrubs after 10-15 years, which shade the smaller and rarer species of these wetlands. While careful use of fire is used to manage fens in North America, it is not widely used in European fens, perhaps because the peat of drained fens may catch fire. Cattle grazing cannot be considered a natural disturbance in North America, since cattle did not evolve on that continent. In Europe, cattle do not generally graze in unaltered fens, but they do use slightly drained fen meadows.

Conclusions: Three approaches have been used to control the dominance of tall woody and herbaceous species in abandoned fens, including the re-introduction of cattle, mowing, and burning. Overgrazing results in a permanent reduction in biodiversity, therefore cattle re-introduction must be approached cautiously. In Europe, but not in North America, mowing has been an important management tool, and mowing has been successful in maintaining species richness, particularly in fens that have been mowed annually for centuries. Fire has been the most common and successful management tool in North America although it is not effective in removing shrubs that have become large. Because the problems and solutions are similar, the literature of both European and North American fen management can be analyzed to better assess the management of fens on both continents. Many management questions require further study and these are listed in the paper.


Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2006

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