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Sustainable grasslands – some news from around the world

Alongside our own interest in promoting the wider values of UK floodplain meadows there is a growing global movement that also reflects this. Discussions about grasslands as a sustainable land use and food system are expanding, as evidenced by the range of grassland symposia exploring these themes from across the world in 2021 and 2022.

The importance of grasslands on every continent on the planet has been highlighted in regular large conferences. In 2021, the International Grassland and Rangeland Congress was held in Kenya (Africa), and a Symposium “Resilience in the face of change – pastures for the future” was organised by Australian Grassland Association. The 29th European Grassland Forum general meeting ‘Grassland at the heart of circular and sustainable food systems’ will be held in Normandy, (France) in June 2022 (https://egf2022.symposium.inrae.fr/edito). There is a similarly themed conference planned for Asia; the Asian Grassland Conference (AGC) to be held virtually on 22-24th February 2022 (https://edgg.org/AGC).  The Sixth Biennial America's Grasslands Conference has been rescheduled to the summer of 2022.  Those meetings promote interchange of information on all aspects of natural and cultivated grasslands and forage crops for the benefit of mankind, including sustainable development, food production and the maintenance of biodiversity.

 

Entry to the Open University 'Bake your research' competition callled  'Sustainable ecosystem - sustainable future'

A range of recent publications on grasslands world-wide also reflect the importance of these ecosystems for a sustainable future of the planet. The grasslands of Central Asia, considered the most extensive grassland region in the world, are no exception as they are nowadays transformed by climate and land-use changes (Suleimenov 2014; Zhang et al. 2018a). These changes diminish these grasslands’ ecological and socio-economical roles and this ultimately leads to biodiversity loss (Chen et al. 2019). The study by Nunez et al (2020) stresses the potential vulnerability of Central Asian grasslands to increasing land-use intensity and climate change, and a similar conclusion was made at the global scale concerning the growing danger of grassland degradation (Bardgett et al, 2021). A special issue of the Swiss journal “Tuexenia”: Grasslands of temperate Europe in a changing world,  collected papers on socio-ecological solutions which are needed to combat degradation and promote restoration of grasslands. This is due to be published soon.

Economical models also have been developed to explain the role of grasslands in sustainable land management and food production (Jaurena et al., 2021). Appreciation of the critical importance of grassland management for carbon storage is growing in Europe (Tölgyesi et al, 2021).

To finish this brief insight into these recent international publications and global discussions about grasslands here is a quote from the report by the US Climate Change Research Centre published in 2017:

“Grasslands cover approximately 25% of the Earth’s land surface (approximately 3.4 billion ha) and contain roughly 12% of the terrestrial carbon stocks. The recovery of soil carbon is typically a slow process, taking many decades to centuries, depending on the carbon balance of the system (4). Despite these slow changes, the global potential for carbon sequestration from restoring degraded grasslands is significant, with the possibility to sequester approximately 3 Gt C per year—equivalent to reducing atmospheric CO2 by 50 ppm over 50 years (19). In addition to restoring degraded grasslands to improve carbon storage, grassland management strategies should recognize the critical goal of maintaining grassland cover and preventing degradation to conserve the ability of that land to continue sequestering carbon” (Ontl and Janowiak, 2017).

Dr Irina Tatarenko, FMP Research Manager

 

References

Bardgett, R.D., Bullock, J.M., Lavorel, S. et al. (2021). Combatting global grassland degradation Nat Rev Earth Environ 2, 720–735 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-021-00207-2

Chen T, Bao A, Jiapaer G, Guo H, Zheng G, Jiang L, Chang C, Tuerhanjiang L (2019) Disentangling the relative impacts of climate change and human activities on arid and semiarid grasslands in Central Asia during 1982–2015. Sci Total Environ 653:1311–1325. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.11.058

Janowiak, M.; Connelly, W.J.;Dante-Wood,  K.; Domke, G.M.; Giardina, C.; Kayler, Z.; Marcinkowski, K.; Ontl, T.; Rodriguez-Franco, C.; Swanston, C.; Woodall, C.W.; Buford, M. (2017). Considering Forest and Grassland Carbon in Land Management. Gen. Tech. Rep. WO-95. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 68 p. https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/54316

Jaurena, M. et al. (2021). Native Grasslands at the Core: A New Paradigm of Intensification for the Campos of Southern South America to Increase Economic and Environmental Sustainability Front. Sustain. Food Syst., 05 March 2021 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fsufs.2021.547834

Nunez, S. Alkemade, R., Kok, K., Leemans, R. (2020). Potential biodiversity change in Central Asian grasslands: scenarios for the impact of climate and land-use change // Regional Environmental Change (2020) 20: 39

Ontl, T.; Janowiak, M. (2017). Grassland and Carbon Management. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Climate Change Resource Center.  https://www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/topics/grassland-carbon-management

Suleimenov M (2014) Trends in the agriculture of Central Asia and implications for rangelands and croplands. In: Novel Measurement and Assessment Tools for Monitoring and Management of Land and Water Resources in Agricultural Landscapes of Central Asia. Springer International Publishing, Cham, pp 91–105

Tölgyesi, C., Buisson, E., Helm, A.,Temperton, V.M., Török, P. (2021). Urgent need for updating the slogan of global climate actions from ‘tree planting’ to ‘restore native vegetation’. doi:10.1111/rec.13594

Zhang G, Biradar CM, Xiao X, Dong J, Zhou Y, Qin Y, Zhang Y, Liu F, Ding M, Thomas RJ (2018a) Exacerbated grassland degradation and desertification in Central Asia during 2000–2014. Ecol Appl 28:442–456. https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.1660