Unlike in the tropics, large parts of Europe’s biological diversity of animals and plants occur outside of forests: on meadows, in fens, and on heathlands.
“We need the buffaloes to remove biomass, otherwise these sites would loose their special plants and be overgrown by ubiquitous species,” says Rössling from the Brandenburg Nature Conservation Fund. And what of German cows? “Buffaloes are very resilient, they have strong hooves and munch away on nearly all kinds of plants, whereas modern cows are simply not adjusted any more to living in marshlands,” he says.
Zoologist Reichholf sees a wider importance of experiments like those around Berlin for the whole of Europe. Currently, European consumers eat meat and drink milk mainly from cows kept in large, industrial facilities and fed with imported soy from rainforest nations.
“We can’t continue like this and have to learn again how to obtain milk and meat from a biologically diverse landscape,” he says. The German projects showcase how nature conservation and meat production could go hand in hand. “The current projects should be viewed as an important reality tests for a much broader application,” Reichholf says.
The three projects demonstrate that in Europe today conservationists must often apply intensive management strategies if they want to keep biodiversity high. After centuries of human use, returning to a state of wilderness will often make landscapes poorer in species, not richer, hence the rationale behind many conservation schemes in Germany that involve introducing exotic grazers. It’s well established among biologists here that the large forests covering Germany after the end of the last Ice Age were poorer in species than the “cultural landscape” that developed later through human use. The big loss of biodiversity started with industrialization and the introduction of modern farming techniques.