The nature conservation and Natura 2000 area “Tote Täler (südwestlich von Freyburg)” forms a representative part of the arid environment at Saale and Unstrut and is part of the Muschelkalk plateau near Naumburg (southern Saxony-Anhalt). Multiple use of the landscape during the last few centuries such as forestry, grazing, vini- and agriculture, use of fruit trees and limestone mining resulted in the current appearance. The central plateau was used for soviet military purposes until 1992. An open landscape was left where semi-dry grasslands have established. On the hillsides of the plateau, the grasslands are surrounded by semi-natural mesic deciduous forests and dry and semi dry grasslands with submediterranean and continental elements rich in fringe species. The main habitat type is Semi-natural dry grasslands and scrubland facies on calcareous substrates (6210 *). In the area big portions of the states´ precious habitat types occur: 25 % of the habitat type 6210*, 29 % of 6110*, 50 % of 8160*.
Special attention is given to the widely spread orchidrich habitats as important orchid sites. Characteristic species such as Ophrys apifera, O. insectifera, Orchis tridentata, Epipactis atrorubens, and Gymnadenia conopsea occur in rich populations. But also xerothermic woody species like Sorbus domestica or Cornus mas extensively cover the hillsides. Isolated shrubbery of roses (Rosa spp.), hawthorn (Crataegus spp.), and blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) form the semi-open landscape of the central plateau; due to the pronounced dry periods shrub encroachment was low at the beginning of the horse grazing.
The avifauna counts 52 species of breeding birds (16 species of the European Birds Directive, Annex I), the butterflies and moths 71 species (2018). The population of the endangered grasshopper Oedipoda germanica is the third most northern occurrence in Central Europe. In total, 23 grasshopper species occur.
Abandoning of the traditional types of land use has recently increased scrub invasion and vegetation litter endangering the valuable open habitats. In order to maintain and restore a favorable conservation status of the habitat types of Annex I and species of Annexes II and IV of the European Habitats Directive the plateau is grazed by Konik horses and the slopes by goats and sheep.
Project goals: maintaining and improving the hotspot of biodiversity
The aim of the project is to scientifically monitor the low-intensity year-round horse pasture on the plateau as well as the temporarily used pastures with sheep and goats on the slopes in order to maintain, restore and improve the habitats and species to a favorable conservation status in terms of the habitats directive. The pastures are created to actively maintain the open grasslands. Current analyses of the conservation status are used for detailled management advices.
Additionally, it is intended to raise people´s awareness about nature conservation objectives. Knowledge about the conducted nature conservation measures, and flora, fauna, and habitats of the conservation area is provided especially for the public.
Year-round horse pasture: In spring 2009, a 87 ha large year-round pasture with horses of the Konik Polski breed was established on the extensive central plateau of the Natura 2000 area. The robust breed is supposed to check further scrub and vegetation encroachment of the overgrown semi-dry meadow in order to potentially increase species diversity. Scrub and vegetation encroachment are especially reduced through winter grazing. Stocking capacity is about 0.2 to 0.3 LU/ ha (ca. 16 adult horses and 10 foals during summer).
Sheep grazing in summer: Grazing by sheep with a shepherd was occurring on the species-rich hillsides at the Orchideen-Rundweg more or less since 1964 when the nature conservation area was founded. Currently, a shepherd of the Agrar-Naturlandschaft GmbH Hassenhausen with about 600 sheep is managing the 17 ha large area.
Rotational goat pastures in summer: Beginning in spring of 2012 four slopes (17 ha) with strongly increased scrub encroachment on the dry grasslands are temporarily grazed by two herds of 30 goats (ca. 2.2 LU/ha) in order to reach a more favorable conservation status. The rotational grazing regime on divided compartments enables the adaptation of phenology of endangered plant and especially orchid species.
Systematic monitoring allows for observing the effects of the various grazing regimes on occurring plant and animal species and habitats. Vegetation relevés are made on 35 permanent plots on both the plateau and hillsides; additional parameters like number and fertility of individuals of protected species are noted. On the extensive plateau 11 permanent plots with a size of 0.6 ha were established. Appropriate parameters for gathering information about stand and vegetation structure and species composition of plants and selected faunistic groups (reptiles, grasshoppers, butterflies & moths) are surveyed +/- yearly on these plots. These parameters act as indicators for habitat quality and are used to evaluate the success of the implementation of the grazing regime.
The parameters are analyzed for changes with previous data. If indicators show a downgrading of the conservation status, the grazing regime can be adapted by changing stocking capacity, stocking composition or grazing timetable, and applying additional conservation measures such as manually removing woody plants.
Further monitoring conducted: Potential trampling and feeding effects on orchid species is accurately surveyed on every pasture. Feeding attitudes, distribution and habitat selection of the grazing animals are observed and analyzed with the help of telemetry collars on selected horses. In addition to the faunistic groups mentioned above, data about bird and amphibian species are collected for the entire area. For parameter details see German version.
The analysis of spatial use of the grazing horses showed that the pasture with exception of the sparsely vegetated quarries is used relatively evenly for feeding. Less used were very remote border areas far from the central area (including the trough). In winter, however, these border areas were used in a similar intensity as the central grazing area. Since the field observations showed an enhanced browsing in winter, winter grazing is of major importance in order to maintain the semi-open landscape.
Further studies on the distribution of different vegetation stands showed that no nitrophilous forb stands were developed in consequence of major dung areas. The development of short grass areas is spread across the entire pasture as a mosaic and its distribution is dynamically.
The typical habitat species composition is a fundamental part of the evaluation of the conservation status of the Habitats Directive. The plant species number on the vegetation relevés increased significantly for 10 species (mean) from 2009 to 2018. On the ungrazed exclosures, however, a decrease of the species number was recorded, caused by the deterioration of vegetation structure.
In total, 12 orchid species currently occur on the horse pasture on the central plateau. The orchid species with the largest population is Ophrys apifera. When observing the individuals of Ophrys apifera (rosettes of leaves) on the entire horse pasture we counted ca. 2.700 in 2018. In 2013, ca. 1.800 individuals were counted. Thus, the population has increased significantly since 2013. Himantoglossum hircinum, Ophrys sphegodes and Orchis tridentata were newly observed on the horse pasture.
In addition to the species composition, the typical habitat structures are relevant for assessing the conservation status. Structural diversity and the proportion of forbs serve as key indicators. In particular, the dominance of high-growing tussock grasses leads to a poor assessment of the severity of the habitat type (6210 *). In the treated area the grass encroachment is substantially influenced by Bromus erectus and Brachypodium pinnatum. Since the beginning of grazing in 2009, espacially Bromus erectus declined significantly. Accordingly, the proportion of grasses was reduced by about 20%, the proportion of forbs increased. The litter layer cover decreased significantly. Horse trampling causes an increasing part of bare soil, which is beneficial to several groups of animals and low-competitive plant species. The initial low woody plant cover increased slightly. The vegetation litter decreased significantly, which is beneficial for less competitive plant species. The dung is evenly distributed (no development of latrines) and its amount is low (mean coverage of 0.1% per 0.6 ha plots).
The unfavorable habitat status at the beginning of the grazing was caused by the poor habitat structures (deficit of maintainance!). The low-intensive, year-round horse grazing quickly led to favorable habitat structures. At the same time, the typical plant species composition was obtained.
On the horse pasture the number of faunistic species groups listed in the Red Lists of Saxony-Anhalt (LAU 2004) is relatively high: 6 bird, 3 grasshopper, and 25 butterfly and moth species. Lullula arborea, Lanius collurio and Sylvia nisoria are also species of the European Birds Directive, Annex I. Since the beginning of the horse grazing, 18 individuals of the endangered Coronella austriaca were collected and reproduction was confirmed. The mean number of grasshopper species increased: 9.6 (2010), 7 (2011) and 10.3 (2012). The mean number of butterfly and moth species remained constantly at 7.5 (2010) 8.7 (2011) and 8.2 (2012), while the mean numbers of individuals rised steadily: 58.2 (2010) 70.2 (2011 ) and 131.7 (2012). The endangered species Chazara briseis showed strongly increased individual numbers.
On slopes with strongly increased scrub encroachment goats are the best management option due to their diet rich in woody species and their capacity to browse up to 1.80 m. We conducted direct animal observations for several years and observed a proportion of 70 % of browsing on woody plants. Cornus sanguinea and Viburnum lantana were favourably browsed by the goats. These species were also the most common woody plant species on the observed slopes. Goat grazing in spring was most effective to reduce woody plant cover. The recorded mean reduction of woody plant cover was 21 % after six years of grazing. The initial mean cover was 55 %.
The floristic species composition of about 40 species per 25 m² remained stable over the observation period 2012 – 2017. By classifying ecological species groups we analyzed the stability of the target group “characteristic semi-dry plant species”. The observed orchid populations remained stable when being grazed in summer and autumn. On the spring pasture the orchid species have been grazed before reproducing, therefore, the further development has to be observed. The numbers of the rare orchid species Ophrys sphegodes increased significantly on the summer-grazed pasture, where grazing occurred after reproduction was completed. Ruderal species only established on ca. 20 x 20 m resting sites.
KÖHLER, M. & TISCHEW, S. (2019): Kalk-(Halb-)Trockenrasen. In: Bunzel-Drüke, M., Böhm, C., Ellwanger, G., Finck, P., Grell, H., Hauswirth, L., Herrmann, A., Jedicke, E., Joest, R., Kämmer, G., Köhler, M., Kolligs, D., Krawczynski, R., Lorenz, A., Luick, R., Mann, S., Nickel, H., Raths, U., Reisinger, E., Riecken, U., Rößling, H., Sollmann, R., Ssymank, A., Thomsen, K., Tischew, S., Vierhaus, H., Wanger, H.-G. & Zimball, O. (Hrsg.) (2019): Naturnahe Beweidung und NATURA 2000. Ganzjahresbeweidung im Management von Lebensraumtypen und Arten im europäischen Schutzgebietssystem NATURA 2000. Heinz Sielmann Stiftung, Duderstadt. 2. überarbeitete und erweiterete Auflage: 113-117.
KÄMMER, G., KÖHLER, M. & TISCHEW, S. (2019) Orchideen. In: Bunzel-Drüke, M., Böhm, C., Ellwanger, G., Finck, P., Grell, H., Hauswirth, L., Herrmann, A., Jedicke, E., Joest, R., Kämmer, G., Köhler, M., Kolligs, D., Krawczynski, R., Lorenz, A., Luick, R., Mann, S., Nickel, H., Raths, U., Reisinger, E., Riecken, U., Rößling, H., Sollmann, R., Ssymank, A., Thomsen, K., Tischew, S., Vierhaus, H., Wanger, H.-G. & Zimball, O. (Hrsg.) (2019): Naturnahe Beweidung und NATURA 2000. Ganzjahresbeweidung im Management von Lebensraumtypen und Arten im europäischen Schutzgebietssystem NATURA 2000. Heinz Sielmann Stiftung, Duderstadt. 2. überarbeitete und erweiterete Auflage: 261-263.
KÖHLER, M., HILLER, G., TISCHEW, S. (2016): Year-round horse grazing supports typical vascular plant species, orchids and rare bird communities in a dry calcareous grassland. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 2016, Volume 234: 48–57. doi:10.1016/j.agee.2016.03.020
KÖHLER, M., TISCHEW, S. (2015): Kalk-(Halb-)Trockenrasen. In: Bunzel-Drüke, M.; Böhm, C.; Ellwanger, G.; Finck, P.; Grell, H.; Hauswirth, L.; Herrmann, A.; Jedicke, E.; Joest, R.; Kämmer, G.; Köhler, M.; Kolligs, D.; Krawczynski, R.; Lorenz, A.; Luick, R.; Mann, S.; Nickel, H.; Raths, U.; Reisinger, E.; Riecken, U.; Rößling, H.; Sollmann, R.; Ssymank, A.; Thomsen, K.; Tischew, S.; Vierhaus, H.; Wagner, H.-G. & Zimball, O.: Naturnahe Beweidung und NATURA 2000. Ganzjahresbeweidung im Management von Lebensraumtypen und Arten im europäischen Schutzgebietssystem NATURA 2000. Heinz Sielmann Stiftung, Duderstadt. Gefördert durch: Thüringer Ministerium für Umwelt, Energie und Naturschutz (TMUEN), Bayerischer Naturschutzfonds, Stiftung Naturschutz Schleswig-Holstein: 95-99.
KÖHLER, M., HILLER, G., TISCHEW, S. (2015): Beweidungsprojekt Rödel/ Tote Täler. In: Baasch, A., Tischew, S. (Hrsg.): Die Offenlandlebensraumtypen Sachsen-Anhalts und deren Management. Tuexenia Beiheft 8: 95-109.
KÖHLER, M., TISCHEW, S. (2015): Standortangepasste Beweidung auf orchideenreichen Kalk-Trocken- und Halbtrockenrasen im Naturschutzgebiet "Tote Täler". Saale-Unstrut-Jahrbuch 20: 174-187.
KÖHLER, M., HILLER G., TISCHEW, S. (2014): All-year megaherbivore grazing in large-scale calcareous grasslands with orchids (Tote Täler). In: Tolvanen, A., Hekkala, A.-M. [eds.]: The 9th European Conference on Ecological Restoration – Abstracts: 78. ISBN: 978-951-40-2481-8.
SEIFERT, R., LORENZ, A., ELIAS, D., KÖHLER, M., HILLER, G. (2014): Extensive Beweidung mit robusten Rinder-, Pferde- und Ziegenrassen als Instrument zur Renaturierung von Offenlandlebensräumen.In: Mugele, J., Franke, G.H., Schnicke, D. [eds.]: 15. Nachwuchswissenschaftlerkonferenz: Tagungsband, S. 203 – 208. Meine Verlag, Magdeburg. ISBN: 978-3-941305-45-8.
KÖHLER, M., HILLER, G.; TISCHEW, S. (2013): Extensive Ganzjahresbeweidung mit Pferden auf orchideenreichen Kalk-Halbtrockenrasen: Effekte im FFH-Gebiet "Tote Täler südwestlich Freyburg" (Sachsen-Anhalt). Naturschutz und Landschaftsplanung 45 (9): 279-286.
Project duration: 2009-2011; 2011-2013; 2013-2015; 2017-2021
funded by: Europa-ELER, ELER-Sachsen-Anhalt, Landesverwaltungsamt Sachsen-Anhalt, Förderperiode 2007-2013; 2014-2020 (23)
Cooperation partners: Bundesforstbetrieb „Mittelelbe“, Naturstiftung David, Untere Naturschutzbehörde Burgenlandkreis, Arbeitskreis Heimische Orchideen Sachsen-Anhalt e.V., Agrargesellschaft Großwilsdorf mbH, Agrar GmbH Crawinkel