Agricultural lands and practices of high nature value.
Agricultural land of high nature value is theagricultural land of low intensity of use, characterized by the richness of plant and animal species, and is an important habitat for many rare and endangered species that cannot survive in an intensively used agricultural area. Agricultural land of high nature value is important for the preservation of semi-natural habitats that are considered crucial for the richness of plant and animal species in the agricultural area.
There are three main types of high nature value agricultural land (without clearly defined boundaries between them):
Agricultural land with a high proportion of semi-natural or natural vegetation (semi-natural meadows and pastures);
Agricultural land with mosaics of various natural and semi-natural habitats and low intensity of land use (forests, hedges, lakes and other habitats within agricultural land);
The agricultural land inhabited by rare species or inhabited by a high share of European and world populations.
Agricultural practices of high nature value are non-intensive farming or livestock production practices implemented on lands of high nature value. They include common agricultural practices, such as plowing, harvesting, mowing, grazing, orchard maintenance and the like, carried out in a way that preserves nature and biodiversity.
Read more about specific high nature valuesoils, as well as about the practices being performed on them:
Pastures are the type of agricultural land used in livestock production for grazing, while meadows are mostly used to provide livestock feed during the winter period
PASTURES AND MEADOWS
These agricultural lands can be of high nature value if they are not subjected to intensive mechanical processing, and if their semi-natural characteristics are preserved, that is, if in addition to performing certain agricultural practices, they are the habitat of a large number of plant and animal species.
The abandonment of pastures and meadows can lead to their disappearance, as these are semi-natural types of land, shaped and maintained by man. Without mowing and the presence of animals that control the development of vegetation, pastures, and meadows overgrow and disappear at a fastpace, causing the disappearance of all the wild species that depend on these habitats. On the other hand, the transition to intensive agricultural production or land-use change (for example, thetransformation of meadows into arable land) is another extreme as the intensification of agricultural production leads to the loss inthe high nature value of these important habitats.
Practices that can maintain a high nature value of pastures and meadows:
1. Rotational grazing
- In the case of large pastures, rotational grazing is an ideal practice that can enable sustainable use of this type of land. This practice is carried out by delimiting certain parts of pastures, which limits the movement of eating animals. The fence is moved every few days (depending on the size of the pasture and the number of animals) to the other part of the pasture. Thus, the system is not exhaustedas it is constantly refreshed, and animals feed on more diverse vegetation (not only on more preferred species), which allows greater utilization of pastures (the development of vegetation in one part of the pasture, while the animals are concentrated in the other, enclosed part). Land managed in this way gets high nature value and becomes sustainable over time.
2. Planned mowing
- This management practice relates primarily to meadows that are used to cultivate grass that is used in the form of hay for livestock feeding during the winter months. To start mowing, a date is determined in relation to the activities of the wild plant and animal world. This date depends on the local climate and the altitude, but special attention is paid on this to be the date after chicks and other calves of livestock populations grow enough to escape from the scythe, and plants grow enough to spread the seeds in the meadow, thereby ensuring that it will be fertilethe following year.
Orchards are a type of agricultural land managed for the purpose of fruit cultivation. In relation to the plantations characterized by more intensive production, orchards represent a traditional type of land with multiple benefits.
Trees in orchards can differ from one another in terms of age, type of fruit or varieties. Old fruit varieties are particularly resistant to various diseases and pests since they developed appropriate defense mechanisms during the evolution process. For this reason, chemical agents, such as pesticides or artificial fertilizers, are rarely used in such systems. Orchards are an important part of the landscape appearance in the entire Western Balkans. The accompanying vegetation of orchards is home to many species of wildlife and in this sense, orchards have a major impact on the preservation of biodiversity.
Practices that can sustain high nature value of traditional orchards:
1. Avoid burning grass or trees in orchards
- In addition to being dangerous because of the possibility of spreading fire to surrounding agricultural land or natural ecosystems,burning of any parts of orchards is dangerous for the orchard itself. Control of the spread of fire is questionable especially in mountainous areas, where there is often no water supply network, and where these orchards are most frequent. The avoidance of this practice allows the use of orchards for other purposes except for cultivation of fruits, for example for livestock grazing, or growing grass for hay.
2. Use of plant protection treatments only in extreme circumstances
- Excessive spraying of plants in orchards with chemical preparations affects the reduction of theirnature value. Chemical agents that are used in orchards without the supervision of experts can get into the metabolism of the plant and stay in its fruits. By using these fruits in their diet, people can indirectly enter harmful substances into their organism. In addition, bees and other pollinators are extremely sensitive to pesticides. Research indicates that over 95% of pesticides do not reach the target species labeled as harmful, but to other, often useful plants and animals.
Arable lands represent the type of agricultural land used for agricultural purposes. They cultivate agricultural crops, usually cereals or industrial and fodder plants.
Many arable lands have a field border, usually consisting of grass, shrubs and other vegetation, which is extremely important for wildlife species using this marginal part of thearable land as a shelter or for nesting.
It has been found that these boundaries can lead to theincreased biodiversity of wildlife and plant species in the area. It often happens that many birds nest in the cropsthemselves, so they are in danger of machine mowing and other agricultural activities.
Practices that can sustain the high nature value of arable land:
1. Harvest from the center to the periphery and use of devices for chasing or scaring animals
- In this practice, it is important that thethresherhas an additional device that is installed on the front of the machine and serves to chase the animals out of the field before the part is harvested. Because of this, it is very important to start with the harvest from the central part of the field and then circling with the thresher in a wider belt, allowing animals to escape to the periphery. This practice does not take extra time, nor does it require additional effort, and is extremely important for all animals using arable land as their habitat.
2. Maintenance of hedges, bush vegetation, and trees on arable land
- Maintaining natural elements such as hedges, bush vegetation, and individual trees on the arable land is important for preserving the mosaic-like landscape. Such landscape has a high nature value as it preserves the richness of plant and animal species which use this mosaic vegetation for moving, resting, feeding or as a habitat. This practice involves occasional pruning of hedges and shrubs on the margins of arable land. In the case of individual trees there is a recommendation that they should be left on arable land, that is, they should not be cut. The maintenance of shrub vegetation prevents soil erosion because these plants have highly branched and strong root system. Many of the plants that make up hedges have great significance for humans. One of the common plants found on arable lands is Prunus spinosa, known as blackthorn or wild plum. This plant has healing effects, and in the Western Balkans, it has been used in folk medicine for centuries.