Mindful agriculture promotes biodiversity in alpine pastures
A row of schnapps bottles lines a shelf at a mountain hut in Austria's Kalkalpen National Park. Each variety is distilled using a different combination of plants from the local area. ALL PHOTOS BY BOB BERWYN.
More than half of Austria's 72 orchid species are on a red list of endangered flora. Kalkalpen National Park, with protected alpine meadows and forests, is a stronghold for the rare plants, with more than a dozen varieties blooming during the peak season in mid-June.
By Bob Berwyn
SUMMIT COUNTY — Scrunching down to get a good view of delicate yellow orchids sprouting in a roadside pasture, Dr. Kurt Redl tells us how cows grazing in the meadow promote biodiversity.
“They only leave the cows in each field for a few days,” says Redl, an Austrian botanist who has been studying alpine ecology for decades.
In between periods of grazing, a flecked carpet of wildflowers blooms, including more than a dozen orchid species that we identify on this day. Altogether, there are 72 orchid species in Austria, and 40 of them are on a “red list” of threatened species.
Centuries of mindful agriculture, with careful livestock management and harvesting of hay, have essentially created an ecosystem that includes a human component. At its best, it’s a harmonious and sustainable balance between man and nature. Besides providing habitat for wildflowers, the open meadows in the Alpine high country also break up the forest canopy, slowing the spread of insect pests between stands, Redl says. (more…)
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