Since June 2012, Taurus cattle (in an aurochs re-breeding scheme) and Konik wild horses have been grazing all year round on an area of 75 hectares in the Gerhausen/Beiningen quarry near Blaubeuren, Germany.
This is the first grazing project of this magnitude in the region of Baden-Württemberg involving wild horses and wild cattle. The Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) of Baden-Württemberg has been the cooperation partner and consultant for this project from the start. NABU is the German partner of BirdLife International.
Quarries contain secondary, man-made biotopes which, in ecological terms, demonstrate a high level of habitat diversity with respect to sunlight, water factor and ground structure within a relatively small area. This wide variety of valuable refuges offers many specialised animal and plant species a unique habitat that they would struggle to find in todays cultivated landscape. In particular, the open, barren areas of the quarry, reminiscent of the previously widespread floodplains in terms of their structure and habitat properties, offer important retreats for rare pioneer species (such as the little ringed plover, the yellow-bellied toad and the tree frog).
Without human intervention, however, these areas grow rapidly and hence lose their value for such rare species. The wild horses and wild cattle are helping to suppress shrub encroachment. They are also creating new open areas as they damage the ground by walking and lying on it. This damage is desirable and restores the dynamics required. A low stocking density, i.e. about one grazing animal per two to three hectares of pure grassland, allows even sensitive biotopes to be incorporated in the grazing area thanks to the reduced hoof traffic.
The trampling and grazing creates special sites which, although covering a smaller area, are very important for organisms that depend on the dynamics in the landscape. Since in times of vegetation dormancy the animals will even graze on plants that do not belong to their preferred diet (e.g. blackberries and willows), the most important months for grazing from the perspective of landscape maintenance are November to March.
The requirements on the cattle and horses for year-round grazing are simple: the grazing livestock must be robust in order to cope with the temperature fluctuations and rainfall. When outside, in times of vegetation dormancy and in the harsh winter, people may have to provide additional feed of hay, straw and mineral nutriments.
The rock mining activities at Gerhausen quarry allow many areas to be left to undisturbed natural development over prolonged periods. In fact, the continuous mining does not disturb the animals because the area is big enough and offers sufficient alternatives.
The Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) of Baden-Württemberg
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