Permanent grassland is a herbaceous plant cover which has been settled for a number of years. It is characterized by a great variety of spontaneous plant species in an ecological balance under the combined effect of the environment and agricultural practices. These are essential for its sustainability (fertilization, grazing and mowing). It differs from sown grasslands by the absence of tillage and the limitation of phytosanitary products, which preserves the soil’s life and the numerous animal species it shelters. In some contexts, permanent grassland can be intensively managed by high mineral fertilization, which leads to an impoverishment of the number of species.
Permanent grassland is nowadays acknowledged for offering a wide range of ecosystem services, contributing to animal nutrition, soil conservation (erosion, water purification), climate regulation (carbon sequestration), to the aesthetics of the landscapes. These ecosystem services, including in plains (hosting crop auxiliaries and pollinators), make permanent grassland an essential resource for the construction of agro-ecological systems.
The term permanent grassland covers different realities. For public authorities, it is a surface declared as grass for more than five uninterrupted years. Farmers rather speak of a natural meadow as opposed to those which are sown. It is part of a heritage, providing quality grass at low costs and adapted to local soil and climate. Researchers consider that in our latitudes natural meadows do not exist, they use the term permanent grassland for areas won over deforested surfaces and maintained by farming practices. The abundance of species and their diversity are indicators used by agronomists and ecologists to characterize the agronomic and environmental potential.
Lastly, permanent grassland is a resource used in the manufacturing of products with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) because it influences the quality of milk, cheese and meat. It covers one-third of the agricultural land and represents most of the feed for herbivores in the mountains. In the plains, mechanization has reduced its presence to areas with major constraints linked to steep slopes, soil or hydromorphy.
References to explore
Gilles Lemaire, John Hodgson and Abad Chabb. 2011. Grassland productivity and ecosystem services. CABI Publishing, 287 p.
Lüscher, G., Jeanneret, P., Schneider, M. K., Hector, A., Arndorfer, M., Balázs, K., … & Eiter, S. 2015. Strikingly high effect of geographic location on fauna and flora of European agricultural grasslands. Basic and applied ecology, 16(4), 281-290.