At a glance
- Between 1991 and 2021 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 national implementation of the European Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) aims, among others, at maintaining the 2012 level of (total) grassland area.
- 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 2021, the total area of permanent grassland had declined by 11 % to around 4.7 m ha.
Since the decision of the EU agricultural reform in 2013, the ‘Greening’ obligations regulate the protection of permanent grassland. Farmers must comply in order to qualify for the direct payments system. By means of a general prior authorisation requirement for ploughing up of grassland and the complete prohibition of ploughing up and change of grassland with elevated environmental value, the loss of permanent grasslands shall be stopped.
Although the percentage of grassland has risen again slightly since 2013 or almost remained at the same level most recently, the overall drivers of the loss of grassland remain largely unchanged. Major pressures such as the high demand of arable fodder, subsidies for the cultivation of energy plants and land abandonment continue to be exerted on grassland. It can therefore be assumed that the long-term pressure on grassland has not changed. Effective protection of grassland therefore remains of crucial importance.
The indicator is based on information from the land-use survey as part of the agricultural census 2021 by the Federal Statistical Office. The results are published in the Fachserie 3, Reihe 3.1.2 of Destatis, in the Statistical Year Book and, prior to this, in the monthly reports by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, 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 2021, in German only).
More detailed information: 'Grünlandumbruch' (in German only).