Year-round grazing projects in Northwestern Germany

© D. Rupprecht
  • Background


    Year-round grazing projects in Northwestern Germany - Background

    To form structure-rich half-open landscapes, year-round grazing with large herbivores has become a common tool in nature conservation in the Netherlands and Germany. Such grazing systems can suit alternative for traditional low-intensive management practices like mowing or wood pasture, but can also be based on the megaherbivore hypothesis.
    Except some early pioneer projects most year-round grazing projects were started since the 1990s in Germany, primarily on former agricultural land. Meanwhile there are hundreds of them in Germany alone and they are increasingly also installed on nutrient-poor soils of former military training areas or mining sites.

    © Kristin Gilhaus

    For planning and evaluation of grazing projects scientific monitoring is urgently necessary. However, despite the increasing significance in nature conservation this is often poorly done and a general overview over the processes and effects of year-round grazing is missing.


    This study aims at questions of general structure and diversity patterns within year-round grazed sites, of the ad- and disadvantages of year-round grazing compared to other management measures and of fodder availability and grazing patterns. Also, practical implications for planning of future grazing projects are developed. Therefore, we have performed field studies within several year-round grazing projects in Northwestern Germany and the Netherlands since 2012.

  • Research Topics

    Research Topics

    • Comparative studies of vegetation of extensive (year-round grazed) pastures and other land use types

    • Influence of grazing management on the development of woody species

    • Influence of different grazing animal species on the vegetation of different systems

    • Influence of wildlife on vegetation

    • Importance of endozoochory for the dispersal of species

    • Seasonal land use and feeding behavior of grazing animals

  • Previous examples


    Previous projects - examples

    Vegetation and Orthoptera diversity in year-round grazed sites compared to other management measures


    To study the impact of year-round grazing compared to other management measures, we chose a neighboured comparison site per year-round pasture. For nutrient-rich sites these were seasonal grazed pastures, for nutrient-poor sites we chose fallows.
    Based on aerial photographs and field surveys we defined structural types from vegetation for each site. Within each structural type we perfomed 3-4 vegetation relevées and Orthoptera sampling plots and took biomass and soil samples.

    Long-term vegetation development of year-round grazed areas


    For the evaluation of the floristic success of year-round grazing, not only comparative studies to other management measures, but also long-term studies within single sites are necessary. Within some pastures, marked permanent plots were compiled at the beginning of the grazing project. To investigate the long-term effect of the year-round grazing on vegetation structure and species composition, we re-recorded the vegetation at these plots.

    Impact of endozoochory on the dispersal of plant species

    Endozoochorie Versuche

    Herbivores do not only influence vegetation by trampling and feeding, but are also able to disperse seed endozoochorily and thus to stimulate patchily changes in plant species composition. Implementing seedling experiments of seeds within dung of cattle and horses we studied the impact of this way of dispersal on the establishment of target species, for instance.

    Cattle feeding patterns and seasonal differing fodder data

    Fraßverhalten Karte

    Cattle foraging patterns influence or change vegetation, but on the other hand feeding habits are presumably also depending on the vegetation. At year-round grazed sites cattle are optimally able to get enough food during the whole year. This means that there has to be an oversupply of plant biomass during the vegetation period. Thus, the grazing animals can freely choose their foraging places, for example by fodder quality. We installed a GPS-tracking of single cattle and sampled biomass every two month on four year-round pastures, to investigate in how far feeding patterns, biomass quality and fodder quality seasonally, and maybe also in dependence of each other, change.

  • Previous theses

    Opportunities for Students

    Students were and are involved in the project. If you are interested in a project or thesis within this project, please contact Denise Rupprecht.

    Previous theses

    • Thurner, Lisa (2022): Effects of grazing on the vegetation of species-rich calcareous pine forests. Master Thesis
    • Meyer, Jasmin (2021) Monitoring von Ganzjahresweiden in der Emsaue – Entwicklung von Vegetationsstruktur und Artenzusammensetzung nach 11 Jahren. Master Thesis
    • Wieland, Elisa Marie (2020): Monitoring eines beweideten Halbtrockenrasens und Empfehlungen zur ökologischen Aufwertung - Untersuchung im FFH-Gebiet Westlicher Hegau. Bachelorarbeit
    • Voß, Nele (2019) Renaturierung von Kalkmagerrasen auf einem ehemaligen Kalksteinbruch durch Ziegenbeweidung. Bachelor Thesis
    • Wenning, Elisa (2019) Effekte von Ziegenbeweidung auf die Gehölzentwicklung in einem stillgelegten Kalksteinbruch. Master Thesis
    • Frings, Pia (2018) Endozoochorous seed dispersal by Dülmener wild horses and vegetation in the Merfelder Bruch under year-round grazing. Master Thesis
    • Koch, Hannah (laufend) Einfluss der Waldbeweidung durch Schottische Hochlandrinder und Exmoorponys auf die Vegetation eines Waldgebiets in der Senne. Master Thesis
    • Schultz, Franziska (2018): Auswirkungen von Beweidung auf die Vegetation von Kalkmagerrasen im Teutoburger Wald. Bachelor Thesis
    • Dukart, Alexandra (2017) Diversität und Struktur der Vegetation auf Ganzjahresweiden im Vergleich zu Saisonweiden und Wiesen. Bachelor Thesis
    • Jacob, Thomas (2017) Gehölzetablierung und -verbiss auf nährstoffarmen und nährstoffreichen Ganzjahresweiden. Bachelor Thesis
    • Santora, Lea (2017) Vegetationsentwicklung von Sandrasen und Feuchtheiden unter Ganzjahresbeweidung. Bachelor Thesis
    • Schmitz, Ronja (2017) Einfluss von ganzjähriger Pferdebeweidung auf die Vegetation von Sandmagerrasen und Heiden. Bachelor Thesis
    • Belsky, Lisa (2016) Einfluss der Ziegenbeweidung auf Vegetation der Kalkmagerrasen im Tetuoburger Wald. Bachelor Thesis
    • Kunze, Svenja (2015) Effekt extensiver Ganzjahresbeweidung mit Rindern auf die Vegetation eines durch Schafe gepflegten Heide-Sandmagerrasen-Komplexes. Bachelor Thesis
    • Hogeback, Steffen (2014)  Impact of wood pasture on tree structure and vegetation. Master Thesis
    • Rothweiler, Maike (2014) Monitoring of cattle foraging habits in year-round grazed areas using GPS-Logger. Master Thesis
    • Rupprecht, Denise (2014) Vegetation and structure diversity of year-round grazed areas on nutrient-poor sites. Master Thesis
    • Vogt, Vera (2013) Impact of year-round grazing on vegetation and tree establishment. Master Thesis


    Students are collecting sampling material for a project on endozoochory.

    Research Projects B.Sc and M. Sc

    • Kunze S, Kreimeier M & Plumbaum K (laufend) Bedeutung der Samenbank und endozoochorer Samenausbreitung für die Renaturierung von Sandmagerrasen und Feuchtheiden
    • Pelster, Anneka & Rothweiler, Maike (2014) Monitoring of cattle foraging habits in year-round grazed areas using GPS-Logger. M.Sc
    • Hogeback, Steffen & Rudolph, Martin (2013) Vegetation developement under 16 year of year-round grazing.  M.Sc
    • Klevesahl J, Rupprecht D & Take S (2013) Interaction between foraging intensity, vegetation and soil properties in a year-round grazed pasture. M.Sc
    • Schild, Susanne (2013) Influence of foraging and trampling on the riparian vegetation and water chemistry of standing water bodies in a year-round grazing system. M.Sc
  • Publications

    International publications (peer-reviewed)

    • Gilhaus K, Freitag M, Kunze S, Hölzel N (2017) High fodder value and feeding likelihood favor endozoochorous plant dispersal. Journal of Vegetation Science 28 (2): 357–367 [doi:10.1111/jvs.12481]
    • Gilhaus K, Hölzel N (2016) Seasonal variations of fodder quality and availability as constraints for stocking rates in year-round grazing schemes. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 234: 5–15  [doi:10.1016/j.agee.2016.03.013]
    • Rupprecht D, Gilhaus K, Hölzel N (2016) Effects of year-round grazing on the vegetation of nutrient-poor grass- and heathlands—Evidence from a large-scale survey. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 234: 16-22 [doi:10.1016/j.agee.2016.02.015]
    • Gilhaus K, Vogt V, Hölzel N (2015) Restoration of sand grasslands by topsoil removal and self-greening. Applied Vegetation Science 18 (4): 661-673 [doi: 10.1111/avsc.12176]
    • Gilhaus K, Stelzner F, Hölzel N (2014) Cattle foraging habits shape vegetation patterns of alluvial year-round grazing systems. Plant Ecology 215 (2): 169-179 [doi:10.1007/s11258-013-0287-6]


    PhD theses

    • Gilhaus K (2016) Grassland management by year-round grazing – opportunities and contraints
    • Rupprecht D (2021) Contributions to the restoration of grasslands in Central Europe