Grasslands with diverse flora are all natural pastures in which agricultural practices maintain quality flora. But apart from maintenance, the very appearance of these spaces was made possible by agricultural activities. Indeed, an extensive practice combining mowing and grazing, mainly cattle, but also goats and sheep, contributed to the creation of this environment. Thus, there is an exceptional and unique floristic diversity in France: more than 400 plant species throughout the Massif Central make up a huge variety of pastures that can be seen changing with the seasons according to the flowering of different species.
This exceptional habitat is also home to an unparalleled biodiversity of fauna: pollinating insects, birds, small mammals… As you have already understood, the conservation of these places is important for biodiversity and comes with many challenges.
1- Agronomic issues
The meadow remains an agricultural area managed by farmers for their livestock. Flower fields are no exception. Although their yields cannot match those of intensive lowland pastures, they have many other qualities that make them important assets for farms: production is distributed much more evenly over time, which ensures long-term fodder supplies. In addition, the restoration of meadows costs nothing: the species are reseeded naturally from year to year. Finally, the taste and nutritional qualities of a number of species living in these meadows ensure the production of high quality fodder! And, of course, the taste of the food is present in farm products: it is the aroma of mountain flowers that gives the milk and cheeses from Auvergne all their authenticity!
2- Environmental issues
The meadow is also a natural space, an important reservoir of biodiversity and a habitat for many animals. Flower meadows in particular are home to an extremely large number of species, many of which are protected. The gray shrike is a perfect example of this. This little sparrow is one of the most endangered birds in France. It nests in hedges and bushes near meadows with diverse flora, where it finds most of its food (voles, insects, etc.). The Massif Central, where breeding continues, has retained an important pasture position in its agricultural landscapes and thus represents the last true refuge in France for this species. Therefore, the farmers who manage these areas are responsible for the conservation of the flora and fauna living in their meadows.
3- Risk of degradation and conservation path
The maintenance of these spaces has been made possible by fairly good management of permanent pastures. Real technical skills are required from farmers so as not to spoil this plant richness. And some wrong methods of intensification can harm it without necessarily adding value at the agronomic level. This is why various entities such as the National Botanical Conservatory of the Massif Central and the LPO Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes offer assistance to farmers in better understanding their permanent pastures. In the Auvergne, the meadows are the cornerstone for combining highly efficient agriculture, which is a source of quality products, and the preservation of a natural heritage unique to France!