October 30, 2016

Bison, cattle and horse grazing together in Kraansvlak

This summer, a small family group of Highland cattle has been added to the already by European bison and Konik horses grazed area ‘Kraansvlak’, part of the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park. ARK Nature, PWN and Ekogrön study the way in which these large herbivores complement or compete each other, how they interact and if they adjust their land use and feeding behaviour.

Konikpaarden en wisenten in het Kraansvlak. Foto: Louise Prevot

Before humans colonized Europe, before they started hunting, clearing forests, managing fields and keeping livestock, Western-Europe had a rich, diverse wildlife with tens of thousands of plant and animal species. That variety was mainly thanks to the grazing of large indigenous wild herbivores like deer, bison, wild horses and cattle and their predecessors. Natural grazing lies at the basis of rich mosaic landscapes of open meadows, shrubs, thickets, bushes and old growth forests. Thousands of plant and animal species flourish in mosaic landscapes and many depend on open landscapes. In Kraansvlak, the effects of the different ways of feeding by several species of large herbivores are examined. In ancient times these grazers also shared their habitat, together with other herbivores like rabbits and deer.

Scientific research focusing on large grazers together

With the return of three types of large herbivores in one area, the Kraansvlak is getting a more complete ecosystem. This dune-area is the first in Europe where the three types of grazers are living in one joint area and where the effect of their joint grazing is studied. Apart from European bison, konik horses and Highland cattle, also fallow deer and roe deer live here. The various grazers have already encountered each other several times in the area. The experiences gained in the Kraansvlak with the behaviour of the different grazers towards one another are also part of the monitoring and research.
Since the return of the European bison in 2007, followed by konik horses in 2009, their grazing behaviour and habitat-use in Kraansvlak are intensively monitored. The behaviour of the Highland cattle in a nearby dune area has also been studied. The question is now if and if so, how, the behaviour of grazers like bison and horses is affected by the arrival of the cattle. The insights and experiences gathered in Kraansvlak, are of interest to areas managed by natural grazing in the Netherlands and abroad. Therefore, we wil continue to share the results of our scientific research.

Schotse hooglander en wisenten. Foto: Dylan Haanappel

Natural grazing

Thousands of plant and animal species depend directly or indirectly on large herbivores and evolved with natural grazing. These species have adapted to the grazing patterns of herbivores, to their droppings, or to the herbivores themselves (predators, parasites). By doing that they have conquered their natural place in the landscape. When it comes to the grazing behaviour of large herbivores, facilitation is usually involved: the grazing behaviour of one species helps the other. It means that one type of grazer creates conditions that the other type of large herbivore needs. For instance, cattle, which tear off the grass with their tongues, pave the way for horses who need shorter, protein richer grass. In turn, horses pave the path for other animals. Natural grazing, therefore, is not about one species of herbivore, but all about indigenous species interacting with each other.


Konik horses and European bison in Kraansvlak. Photo: Louise Prevot