Get to know… and protect!
A nationwide network of more than 700 Austrian farmers and 12 agricultural schools regularly observe rare plants and animals in their own species-rich grasslands. The project started in 2007 with 50 pilot-farms and since then the number of participants has grown and it is a great success. The educational rural development project is co-financed by the EU, federal-, and state government and coordinated by the Austrian Council of Agricultural Engineering and Rural Development (OEKL), a non-profit organization who cooperates with three agencies: Umweltbüro GmbH, LACON – Landscape planning & Consulting and Suske Consulting.
The main goal of the project “We care…” is to raise awareness among farmers about biodiversity. In doing so, they get a basic understanding for the importance of extensively cultivated grasslands with respect to nature conservation. Education and cooperation between agriculture and nature protection are the basic approaches to the project.
Learning from each other
The project team cooperates with botanists and zoologists, who investigate the monitoring site beforehand. Together with the ecologist the farmer choose indicator species and a defined site for future monitoring. They discuss interesting details about the species and the monitoring site as well as the techniques for counting the species. In the following, the farmer annually counts the indicator species, observes its abundance and sends the data to the project team. Plants and animal species are listed once a year, indicator birds are documented during the entire vegetation period. Flowers are preferably determined when they are in full bloom and insects are counted under sunny and calm weather conditions.
Students and young farmers are the future environmentalists
12 Agricultural schools are taking part in the project. In specific teaching lessons the students get the opportunity to learn more about biodiversity of extensively cultivated grasslands. Therefore, the project team developed teaching materials with different aspects, e.g. the flavour of meadows or the different ripening periods of plants.
Colorful beauties and fascinating residents of the central European “rainforests”
About 160 typical plant species are counted by the participating farmers, among them are the mountain arnica (Arnica montana), ragged robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), heath spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza maculata) or silver thistle (Carlina acaulis). More than 100 different plant and animal species can be found per square meter in extensive grasslands.
Many fascinating animals – such as the Marbled White (Melanargia galathea), Four-spot Orb-weaver (Araneus quadratus) or different grass hoppers – find their home in these endangered habitats. Many different bird species depend on these specific habitats for feeding or nesting, like the red-backed shrike. The farmers in the project “We care…!” not only watch these species but care for them and their habitats.
The farmer‘s opinion
The farmer‘s feedback is mostly positive, often because they get a completely new picture of their grasslands. The whole family, especially the children become enthusiastic observers.
“I have never looked at my meadows in this way. Normally I don´t jump out of my tractor!“
„It is a great project! My children would be very disappointed if we would stop counting our plants and animals…!“
More Information about this project is available on the Project Database of European Network for Rural Development
A short film about this project can be watched here.