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Grassland environmental programme

Flowering grass on the Stahlberge area
Relic of the ice age: The natural monument Stahlberge in Darmstadt is home to rare plants and animals. (Photo: Markus Bernards for FAIR)

Environmental experts have restored the area of dry grassland and recreated the meadow character of a part of Mörsbach beck as part of the environmental planning process for the new FAIR particle accelerator. Both sites are situated in the district of Arheilgen in the German city of Darmstadt.

Natural Monument "Stahlberge"
Nature Reserve "Mörsbach Beck"

Natural Monument “Stahlberge”

Violet broomrape and white mountain parsley
The Stahlberge is home the rare sand broomrape (left) and mountain parsley, both of which are on German red lists of threatened species. (Photo left: Markus Bernards, right: PGNU for FAIR)
Blue butterfly in the grass
The very rare Cupido argiades butterfly has been seen on the Stahlberge as well (Photo: André Balke for FAIR).
Workers removing pine trees
In March 2012, workers removed pine trees and bushes which had started to invade. (Photo: PGNU for FAIR)

To the south of the new particle accelerator FAIR lies a relic of the ice age: The Stahlberge. They are part of a system of sand dunes created by the wind over 10,000 years ago as it blew from the western ridge of the Rhine Valley. The low-nutrient, sandy soil of the Stahlberge is home to rare, protected plants such as the sand broomrape (Orobanche arenaria), a parasitic species that relies entirely on its host the field wormwood (Artemisia campestris) for nutrition, and therefore has no chlorophyll.
Other protected species such as the round-headed leek (Allium sphaerocephalon), mountain parsley (Peucedanum oreoselinum) or lace veil (Stipa capillata) are also native to the Stahlberge together with sand lizards and the Cupido argiades butterfly – both of which are on German red lists of threatened species.

The dry grasslands of the Stahlberge, however, were slowly being invaded. Small pine trees and bushes were spreading from the larger trees and encroaching on the low-nutrient meadows, threatening to displace the rare plants and animals. FAIR commissioned the pine trees and bushes to be carefully removed (including their roots) and for the grass to be mown. Since the grasslands are too small to be grazed by sheep, they will be mown once or twice a year as part of a dedicated conservation plan for the Stahlberge. The plan makes sure that the rare plants have sufficient time to seed. Any new bushes or pine trees will also be regularly removed.

Nature Reserve “Mörsbach Beck”

Space for flora: Mörsbach beck in 2014 (Photo: Markus Bernards for FAIR)
Mörsbach beck in 2012: Spruce trees and bushes form a kind of barrier. (Photo: Hessische Verwaltung für Bodenmanagement und Geoinformation, inserted information by FAIR)
2013, prior to the works: Mörsbach beck slowly grows over. (Photo: Forest Official Annerose Stambke)
2013, after completing the works: Bushes and a spruce tree barriers have been removed. (Photo: Forest Official Annerose Stambke)

The meadow bottoms along the Mörsbach beck to the west of Messel have been deemed extremely worthy of conservation as they are the habitat of many rare meadow communities. The habitat’s nutrients and climate allow for considerable biodiversity in terms of both flora and fauna. Among the flora found here are, for example, various grasses and herbaceous plants, as well as rare species such as the Siberian iris and certain species of wild orchid such as the marsh orchid.

In the past, however, partial areas of Mörsbach beck had become heavily overgrown with bushes or as a consequence of the planting of spruce trees. This displaces rare plants as they no longer find optimum living conditions. In order to prevent the meadow bottoms becoming enclosed and so as to recreate the meadow character, in February 2013 forestry experts were commissioned by FAIR to remove spruce trees and bushes.

The areas concerned were milled and mulched so as to remove all bushes, shrubs and tree stumps from the soil. This makes it possible for the areas to be tended mechanically in the future. Seeds are not being sown as it can be safely assumed that, given the plentiful supply of nutrients in the soil, the meadow vegetation will develop of its own accord.

(c) 2018 FAIR
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