Clearance Cairn Landscapes
The hedgerow landscape of the Ore Mountains
Did you know that the former rural district of Annaberg alone has a total of 250 km of hedgerows? Few other regions in Saxony have such a high density of hedgerows.
The sustainable and eco-friendly development of the only clearance cairn landscape in Saxony is not just a long-term task for custodians of the countryside and nature conservationists.
Local farmers, who are the most significant land users, are also directly affected by the development of the landscape today. Historically, local agriculture has played a major role in shaping this landscape – with its terraced fields and villages in forest clearings.
The hedgerows in meadows and fields fulfil ecological functions that also benefit local agriculture. For example, they reduce soil erosion and provide shelter for grazing animals. Conversely, ageing tree hedges create technical problems for farming businesses that affect the cultivation of their land.
The continual rejuvenation of hedgerows is important from a nature conservation perspective. It ensures that our cultural landscape retains the valuable characteristics that diversely structured habitats provide for rare animal species – such as the brown hare, the dormouse and the red-backed shrike.
In centuries past, the vegetation growing on the clearance cairns was regularly coppiced, i.e. cut back to the stump.
Considering the technology available back then, why did they give themselves such a laborious task? The main reason was to use bushy growth to keep competing vegetation out of the fields and meadows, which used to be very small. The acquisition of timber and firewood was certainly another factor.
Today’s clearance cairn landscape, which is ecologically unique and very much worth protecting, came about as a result of this collaboration between humans and nature.
For a variety of reasons, this rejuvenation has not taken place for around 60 years.
What were once sparse, species-rich hedgerows have increasingly become aged rows of trees.
Conditions are getting progressively worse for species whose habitat is the open and semi-open land, which is increasingly dominated by trees and aged stands.
Blooming herbaceous fringes are disappearing in the shade of dense groups of trees. Light-hungry raspberry and blackberry bushes, roses, sloes and hawthorn yield to the competitive pressure of the dominant layer of trees, which are predominantly sycamores and common ash trees.
This decline in plant species poses an additional threat to indigenous animal species, as do the changes to the biotope structures.
To survive in our cultural landscape, the red-backed shrike and other mammals – such as the dormouse, which is a European protected species, the weasel, the field hare and those species of bat that are at risk of extinction in Saxony – require a variety of structure and sparse hedges that have a variety of flora.
An initial step towards bringing natural diversity back to these habitats is to rejuvenate hedgerows that are dominated by trees. This should be done as comprehensively as possible and in a way that is ecologically responsible.
The long-term goal is to re-establish food sources and habitats within which large numbers of animal and plant species can live and shelter and to transform aged rows of trees into a biotope network of diversely structured hedgerows. This can only be achieved with adequate and continued public support.
As part of the rejuvenation, it is vital that vigorously competitive species of large tree – such as sycamore, Norway maple and common ash trees – are consistently removed.
Tree and shrub species that are endangered and worth preserving are identified and labelled beforehand. In some stands, it has been possible to identify and free up space around specific rare species such as Scots elm, black-berried honeysuckle and alder buckthorn.
In the Pöhlberg region, conservation studies were undertaken by the local nature conservation authorities regarding the hedgerows that had previously undergone intensive rejuvenation. These studies show that the desired conservation objectives for these locations were reached within a short space of time.
In addition to the red-backed shrike, which is a European protected species, other demanding semi-open land species also returned to these locations, including the common whitethroat. This kind of skilled hedgerow rejuvenation also fulfils the requirements of the commitments for the European Important Bird Area ‘Mittelgebirgslandschaften östlich Annaberg’, which are set out by EU law.
By modifying the hedgerows so they are sparse at the top and dense at the bottom, it is possible for rows of trees to become species-rich hedgerows once again – although removing large trees may initially result in an unfamiliar view.
Are you interested?
In our German language downloads section, you can find an information sheet about hedgerow management (PDF document, in German).
Planting new hedgerows
In addition to ensuring the long-term protection of the native species and communities of species and their habitats, the goal of the biotope network strategy is also to restore and develop functional, ecological interrelationships within the agricultural landscape.
In pursuing this goal, the ecological habitat requirements of the native species take centre stage.
For example, a dense network of hedgerows can bring about genetic exchange between populations, as well as facilitating the movement of animals and the natural processes of propagation and recolonisation.
In fact, there is evidence that endangered animal species, such as the red-backed shrike and the dormouse, have become established in our newly planted hedgerow structures.
Over the last two decades, our association has planted and maintained around 40 km of new hedgerow, comprising several thousand native shrubs and wild fruit bushes.