The demonstration farm of project GrassLIFE, the nature farm ‘Bekas’, is unique – almost all of its land is rare and protected grassland and water habitats, where equally rare and protected species of wild plants and animals live.
The goal of the owners of ‘Bekas’ – Inese and Viesturs Lārmanis – is to look for such ways of economic growth in their farm that preserve and increase the diversity of nature. At the same time, ‘Bekas’ mission is to inspire other, similar landowners, as well as to be a place to learn about grassland restoration and its practicalities. It could be said that ‘Bekas’ is a centre of practical knowledge of grassland restoration. During the GrassLIFE project, ‘Bekas’ is not only a place to restore wooded meadows – knowledge about meadow restoration methods is also acquired here, monitoring is carried out every year and progress is carefully recorded. This information will also help others and contribute to science.

The latest monitoring report, prepared by researchers from the University of Latvia, shows that the improvement of the protection status of forest-overgrown wooded pastures in ‘Bekas’ is very successful. The structure of vegetation and species composition in these areas has changed from forest vegetation to grassland vegetation within three years. Part of the restoration work is shrub cutting, and currently the cover of shrub shoots has decreased and does not exceed 10% of the cover. Milling has been identified as an important measure to control shrub shoots in grey alder grove. Grazing of Highland cattle also successfully limits the growth of shoots. The number of indicator species of natural grasslands has reached the target value in part of the restored areas. The performers of monitoring also point out that in the coming years attention should be paid to the amount of expansive herbaceous species, as it still exceeds the target value and is the reason for the slower development of the vegetation characteristic of the target habitat.

‘Bekas’ not only restore wooded meadows, but also expand the areas of biologically valuable grasslands. Assessing the success, it was concluded that the vegetation of the grasslands established in the set-asides is developing in the direction of the target habitat, and already in the second year of establishment the vegetation is characterized by a relatively high proportion of typical grassland species and a decrease in expansive species. Already in the first year of grassland establishment, in addition to the sown grasses, the vegetation consisted of ten plant species characteristic of the target habitat with a prevalence of over 20%. The cover of expansive herbaceous species has decreased by 20–40% compared to the situation before the establishment of grasslands. In the second year of grassland establishment, their cover did not exceed 45% of the total vegetation cover on average. Only the number of indicator species of natural grasslands has halved compared to the initial situation, which can be explained by the unsuitability of the early stages of grassland formation for the requirements of these narrow ecological species. The fact that already in the second year after the establishment of the grassland habitat there are 5 to 11 indicator species indicates favourable conditions for the naturalization of the habitat.

During the monitoring, not only plant inventory and vegetation assessment is performed, but also soil analyses. Significant changes in soil chemical properties compared to the pre-regeneration status were observed in both set-aside grasslands and de-forested areas. However, no overall increase in soil fertility was observed due to a decrease in potassium and an increase in phosphorus, which remained below the critical threshold of 15–20 mg/kg-1. Therefore, the researchers conclude that plowing and sowing the grasses has retained the favourability of the chemical properties of the soil for the further naturalization of the grasslands – natural grasslands are known to require infertile soil.




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