Coa Valley – Portugal

Two case studies will gather information of different grazing models in the Greater Coa Valley, their relation to wildfire prevention, and their competitive power compared to other land use models like forestry or simple land abandonment. One case study will focus on the Faia Brava reserve, the largest private nature reserve in Portugal, and the challenges of how to scale up the natural grazing model with semi-wild herbivores that is used. This study will provide an overview of financial and veterinarian restrictions that private organizations and landowners in NE-Portugal face when trying to set up grazing systems that limit wildfires and enhance biodiversity.

The second case study will collect information from different parts of the Coa Valley – with different land management models – and their vulnerability to wildfires in relation to human densities/activities. With the current frequency of wildfires in Portugal (on average once every 10–15 years), there is an urgent need to assess new grazing models and their effectiveness in fire prevention, carbon storage/sequestration and reaching biodiversity-targets, compared to the effects of land abandonment (leading to shrub-encroachment) and large-scale plantations of pine and eucalyptus forests. This study comes with comparable data regarding fire prevention, carbon storage/sequestration and biodiversity-targets for different land uses.

Galicia – Spain

In this part of Spain, wild ponies are present in several mountain ranges with uneven densities and different situations. Alternative uses include mainly forestry and land abandonment. The traditional system of wild ponies’ coexistence with the use of natural resources is now threatened due to conflicts with landowners, legal situations and policies, low market prices and wolf attacks.

After evaluation of the existing information on this topic, 3-5 subareas will be selected for an in-depth case study on the land management models that are used. In each case study owners` associations and other relevant stakeholders will be contacted to perform the questionnaires. By a combination of remote sensing and existing public data and fieldwork, cartography of the grazed areas will be developed, which will depict: i) natural and semi-natural habitats according to the Habitats directive, ii) landscape values, iii) fuel biomass and wildfire risk areas. These landscape and habitat properties will be compared among the different grazing models practiced in the region in order to investigate which one performs best regarding biodiversity maintenance and fire prevention.

Velebit – Croatia

Velebit Mountains and the adjacent Lika Plains belong to the biodiversity hotspots of Europe. These rich mosaic landscapes are at risk of bush encroachment on the one hand and intensive farming on the other hand. To protect these valuable lands, first pioneering actions with natural grazing by horses, cattle and wild ungulates have been set up in the last five years. Although these natural grazing models seems to be profitable, they can’t compete with upcoming large-scale sheep and cattle farming that benefit more from current subsidy-systems, even though the latter grazing models may perform less in biodiversity, landscape development and carbon storage. A practical assessment of these conflicts is desperately needed, which will require direct discussions with relevant authorities at the regional and national level, including a more in-depth cost-efficiency analysis with particular attention to alternative business models and subsidy systems, as well as current costs of fire prevention with a system in which natural grazing limits the scale of wildfires.

To address the question of environmental costs and benefits,  two field studies will be conducted in the Lika Plains and surrounding areas of the Velebit Mountains.  .

One study – in cooperation with the University of Zagreb and, within it, the Faculty of Agriculture – will assess the impact of different levels of grazing intensities, ranging from sheep and cattle farming (and mowing) to natural grazing with (semi)wild herbivores – on 1) biodiversity, 2) wildfire prevention and 3) carbon storage/sequestration in Lika Plains, based on data of the vegetation structure. The study will also examine the competitive power of these different grazing models in relation to (inter)national policies, legislation and subsidy-systems.

The second study will – via interviews – examine the impact of natural grazing on historically grazed, but now abandoned, areas in Velebit Mountains that face bush- and forest encroachment with growing risks for wildfires. The study will assess whether natural grazing systems can add value to spontaneous regrowth of forests in these abandoned areas with regard to biodiversity and whether it could help effective wildfire prevention. Legal, financial and policy barriers for implementation of the most effective management models will be mapped.

Rhodope Mountains – Bulgaria

With over 10 years of pioneering practices in natural grazing in the Eastern Rhodopes, there is much knowledge available regarding managers experiences with policy restrictions and subsidies and the effects of grazing models for biodiversity and ecosystem services. This needs proper documentation and analysis, also for the benefit of similar projects in other parts of Europe. Therefore, a quick scan will be performed about current practices on natural grazing in the Eastern Rhodopes and the challenges regarding competing land-use models.

Topics that will be addressed are:

  1. competition of natural grazing with subsidized herding (with dogs) of sheep and cattle,
  2. protection of natural grasslands (for example with susliks) versus subsidized ploughing of these grasslands,
  3. natural grazing with rare breeds and the legal restrictions (for example artificial shelters) that are connected to the subsidies of these breeds,
  4. advantages, disadvantages and barriers to obtain a ‘wild status’ for free roaming horses (Bulgaria is pioneering here),
  5. emerging knowledge about the way free roaming cattle and horses learn to defend themselves against large predators.

Danube Delta – Romania/Ukraine

With the collapse of natural populations of large herbivores and (later) livestock numbers due to land abandonment, large parts of the Danube Delta show a tendency to monocultures of vast reed beds. More or less by accident escaped/free roaming herds of horses and cattle locally show a positive impact on the structure of the reed beds, but on other places (for example Letea forest) their impact is heavily debated. The time is ripe to learn from these incidents and draw conclusions that can be useful for the larger delta-ecosystems.

Therefore, an ecological and socio-economical assessment will be conducted of the current grazing models in the Danube Delta (in the Ukrainian Outer Delta, on islands in Ukraine and Romania and in the Romanian dune complexes). This case study will gain from the diversity of different grazing models, especially on the Ukraine side, offering a valuable comparative study/natural experiment to learn from. Based on a habitat overview of the entire delta, the assessment will include an investigation of the scaling-up potential of the grazing models studied, but also describe existing limitations due to legal or financial restrictions. This subject has the full attention of the Biosphere Reserve and Delta Institute in Romania and Rewilding Ukraine is preparing a larger cooperation with these organisations in a long-term research project, beyond the timeframe of this Preparatory Project. In that sense the preliminary study within this GRAZELIFE-project should be considered as a first assessment to gather information that is both useful for EU-policies as well as for a more comprehensive study that will consider the whole delta ecosystem.

Oder Delta – Germany/Poland

For several years, both the Polish and German parts of the Oder Delta have seen a steady decline in grazing livestock production. This applies especially to semi-natural economic forms. Extensively grazed areas are increasingly threatened to lose their agricultural eligibility altogether, because of changes in the vegetation structure, or – in wetlands – due to the (temporary) existence of open water areas that are no longer recognized as agricultural land by the agricultural authorities. This development leads to individual areas taken out of agricultural use and forgoing natural succession in the best case, but more usually a change is made to more intensive cultivation methods instead of grazing. Both are usually associated with negative consequences for regional biodiversity. For this reason, there is much interest for nature conservation in determining the causes of the decline in grazing livestock farming and paying special attention to agricultural subsidies and their role in maintaining (extensive, sustainable) grazing or altering land-use.

For this reason two case studies will be conducted (one on the German side and one on the Polish side) to examine the responses of landowners and –users to the agricultural support in the last and current funding periods in both countries, with both the first pillar (Direct Payments) and the second pillar (Agri-Environmental-Climate Measures) of the CAP. The focus will be on those land managers who are either currently practicing near-natural grazing or have given up this method with the change from the last to the current agricultural subsidy period. In particular, beneficial or obstructive framework conditions for near-natural grazing as well as any changes with a changeover to the current funding period (2014–2021) will be examined. This analysis is done separately for the German and the Polish side in order to identify national and regional differences in programming and implementation.

As a result, insights should be gained as to which parameters need to be changed within the agricultural promotion in order to create conditions for a spatial expansion of more sustainable grazing practices and, above all, for more natural grazing methods.

Lowland Rivers Rhine and Meuse – Netherlands/Belgium

The Dutch floodplains of the rivers Rhine and Meuse have a 30-year history of natural grazing projects by conservation organizations, with excellent results regarding biodiversity. However, for landowners it increasingly appears more attractive to use farm cattle and also for farmers it is more profitable to continue less sustainable models, because of subsidies related to more intense grazing and mowing systems. This problem may have worsened with the recent CAP reform reintroducing coupled-payments (i.e., payments that are coupled with production) after a gradual decrease of such payments since the 90s. As this issue will be addressed more generally in the Oder Delta case studies, the Dutch input will focus more on two more specific challenges related to natural grazing:

  1. legal restrictions towards cross-border grazing projects (here between the Netherlands and Belgium) and
  2. the ecological value of (regarding animal medicines) clean manure in grazed ecosystems.

Specifically, we will examine the problem with cross-border movements of grazing herds. At the moment this is very difficult because of (inter)national legislation, therefore limiting possibilities for large scale grazing projects in border regions. A case study in the Border-Meuse region will provide information on this topic and possible options to overcome these limitations, which can be useful for other European border areas as well.

A second case study will examine the role of manure in ecosystems by comparing the flora and fauna of manure of (semi-)wild herbivores with that of livestock grazing in nature reserves. The use of, for example, deworming medicines, can be shown to make a huge difference in terms of biodiversity and will be an extra argument for natural grazing that can be applied to other European regions as well. The case studies will result in recommendations regarding cross-border grazing projects and the value of faeces from untreated animals in (semi)natural ecosystems.


Encouraging animal keeping is one of the key priorities of agricultural policy in Lithuania, therefore this Member State seeks more flexibility to grazing management strategies that can support EU-goals on biodiversity and climate mitigation along with securing farmers’ incomes. To make this approach available within the European context of this Preparatory Project, a better understanding of the Lithuanian situation is essential. For the Lithuanian situation it is useful to check the implementation of this strategy in the field, with relevant stakeholders regarding grazing management systems.

The case study will analyse different grazing models and best practices of animal grazing in Lithuania implemented in different ecological (e.g. different habitat types) and socio-economic contexts (e.g. involvement in implementation of Pillar 2 of the CAP (Rural Development Programme). To realize this targeted farming areas will be screened with multispectral aerial photos made by the associated beneficiary BEF-LT. This would allow a rapid, but still comprehensive assessment of vegetation diversity and structure in targeted areas, contributing to defining the most useful grazing models. The action will specifically focus on CAP payment systems applied in targeted field farms. Experts will analyse benefits and limitations of the applied measures and what improvements (administrative, management requirements, etc.) could be made to maximize the delivery of ecosystem services of Regulation & Maintenance. This case study will thereby develop recommendations how Rural Development Program in Lithuania can be improved to perform better delivery of targeted ecosystem services.

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