At a glance
- Between 1991 and 2022 the area of grassland in Germany decreased by around 11 %.
- The area of permanent grassland has almost remained at the same level in recent years.
- The loss of grassland was largely halted with the 2014 agricultural reform, and the area of grassland has not fallen below the 2013 level since then. Effective steps are required to achieve this target.
Extensively managed grassland is important for species-rich plant communities that require nutrient-poor soils and which have become rare in agricultural landscapes. Approximately 40 % of the endangered ferns and flowering plants in Germany are found in grassland, as the 'Grünland-Report' shows (BfN 2014, in German only). But grasslands are also important for protecting soils and water and help to protect the climate by storing carbon. Permanent grassland is of particular value. It is defined as meadows and pastures that have not been used as arable land for at least five continuous years.
The loss of grasslands between 1991 and 2013 was due to more intensive agriculture and the associated changes in land use. Using grasslands for pasture and hay had become less attractive to farmers while there was a growing demand to cultivate the land for feed and energy plants. Many farmers therefore increasingly used former pastures and meadows as arable land. Particularly valuable sites from an environmental view such as semi-arid grasslands and humid grasslands were ploughed and converted into arable land. If these areas are then used for intensive arable agriculture, the above-mentioned positive effects of grassland are lost. Furthermore low yielding and remote grasslands are at risk of being abandoned due to not being economically viable (land abandonment). Such grasslands may convert to shrub lands and lose their function as habitat for rare plants and animals adapted to them.
Assessing the development
Permanent grassland in Germany has been under pressure in recent decades. In 1991 there were still over 5.3 million hectares (m ha) of utilised agricultural land managed as permanent grassland. By 2022, the total area of permanent grassland had declined by 11 % to around 4.7 m ha.
With the EU agricultural reform of 2014, the preservation of permanent grassland was regulated via the "greening" requirements as a prerequisite for area-linked direct payments. The loss of permanent grassland was to be stopped with a general permit requirement for the conversion of permanent grassland and a complete ban on conversion and ploughing for permanent grassland worthy of special protection. In the current CAP funding period, which has been in effect since January 2023, the preservation of grassland is also ensured through so-called conditionality in the first pillar. Farmers who receive direct payments are only allowed to convert their grassland under certain conditions and only with permission. In addition, some federal states (e.g. Baden-Württemberg, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Schleswig-Holstein) have state laws that generally prohibit the conversion of grassland.
Although the percentage of grassland has risen again slightly since 2013 or almost remained at the same level most recently. However, the overarching drivers of grassland conversion remain largely unchanged. This applies in particular to the high demand for arable fodder, the promotion of the cultivation of energy crops, the land consumption of settlement and transport and the abandonment of use (see above). It can therefore be assumed that we will see continued pressure on grassland. Effective grassland protection thus remains of paramount importance.
The indicator is based on results of the 2022 Land-use survey of the Federal Statistical Office. The results are published in the Fachserie 3, Reihe 3.1.2 of Destatis, in the Statistical Year Book and, as wells on the website of the Federal Statistical Office on grassland. A detailed description of the method is given in the quality report on the agricultural census (Destatis 2022, in German only).
More detailed information: 'Grünlandumbruch' (in German only).