At a glance
- Between 1991 and 2017 the area of grassland in Germany decreased by 12 %.
- The area of permanent grassland has risen slightly 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 which require nutrient-poor soils and are rare in farmland. 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, in addition, 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 field for at least five continuous years.
The loss of grasslands is due to more intensive agriculture and the associated changes in land use. Using grasslands for pasture and hay is becoming less attractive to farmers while there is a growing demand to cultivate the land for feed and energy plants. Many farmers therefore increasingly use former pastures and meadows as arable land. Particularly valuable sites from an environmental viewpoint such as semi-arid grasslands and humid grasslands are ploughed and converted to arable. 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.
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 2017, the total area of permanent grassland had declined by 12 % 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. Various regulations aim at prevention of loss of permanent grassland like 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.
Although the percentage of grassland has recently risen again slightly, the overall drivers of the loss of grassland remain largely unchanged. Major pressures continue to be exerted on grassland in particular by subsidies for the cultivation of energy plants and intensification of milk production as well as land abandonment. It can therefore be assumed that the long-term pressure on grassland has not changed. The effective protection of grassland therefore remains task of outstanding importance.
The indicator is based on information from the land-use survey by the statistical offices of the Federal States. The results are published in the Statistical Year Book and, prior to this, in the monthly reports by the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. A detailed description of the method is given in the quality report on the land-use survey (Destatis 2018, in German only).
More detailed information: 'Grünlandumbruch' (in German only).