Heathland management – never enough plaggen

Bildauschnitt Helfer bei der Heidepflege

The heathland has been created by man, and only he can preserve it. This is because without management measures, the heathland will return to forest. Nutrient inputs from the air mean that certain coarse grasses such as wavy hair grass and moor-grass are promoted, and common heather and cross-leaved heath are displaced. The management measures primarily serve to keep the heathland open and to reduce nutrients. The management measures are

  • grazing
  • pulling out young trees/scrub clearing
  • mechanical cutting, plaggen and mowing

plus controlled burning.

Grazing - Schnucken (German grey heath) and goats are hard-working landscape managers

The grazing of the Heath with German grey heath sheep (Heidschnucke) is probably the best-known method of maintaining the heathland. Browsing encourages young heather shoots. The heather should be kept to about 15 cm long to keep it young and compact as well as to allow it to flower beautifully. If the heather becomes longer or older, it becomes woody. Prickly plants like juniper, blackthorn or broom are not eaten.

And the Schnucken (German grey heath) do something else: they destroy spider webs, so bees do not get caught in them. In the past, Schnucken (German grey heath) flocks were supported by goats: they heavily browsed pioneering tree species, such as birch and pine.

Horses also help landscape management

Bildauschnitt Helfer bei der Heidepflege

Dülmen ponies support the Schnucken (German grey heath) flocks in Lüneburg Heath nature conservation area in maintaining damp lowlands on Radenbach between Egestorf and Undeloh, near Wilsede, on the Tütsberg and recently around Hörpel. This horse breed is still threatened with extinction. Therefore, it is all the more pleasing that the flock was strengthened by the birth of seven foals in 2016.

In the long term, however, grazing by Heidschnucken (German grey heath), goats and horses only prevents enriching of the soil by nutrients when it is done at a very high intensity. However, such a high intensity is not desirable for both financial and ecological reasons. Therefore, other management measures are also used:

Pulling out young trees/scrub clearing - Man does it himself with spades and saws

During scrub clearance, pioneer tree species such as pine or birch are removed by hand with spades, saws or loppers. Each year, many voluntary helpers participate in scrub clearance activities across the Nature Park. Visitors to the region can also participate - every pair of hands is welcome! During Nature Park Day, these activities are bundled together and you are welcome to support one of the activities. Here you can find out about our Nature Park Day.

Die Natur zu erhalten ist teuer, sie nicht zu erhalten ist unbezahlbar.

(Quote: Hans Immler)

Cutting, Plaggen and mowing – removal of nutrients using machine power

Plaggen is the most intensive form of heathland management and is carried out when the heathlands already have raw humus layer of more than 3 cm and are heavily grazed. Specially designed plagging machines remove the vegetation and humus layer until they reach the mineral soil.

The so-called "Schopperverfahren" is a cost-effective alternative to plagging. While plagging mixes mineral soil and humus layers together, with cutting the material removed is largely free of mineral soil because the working depth is somewhat shallower than plagging. This method, however, can only be used with raw humus up to 3 cm deep and with lightly grazed areas.

During mowing, devices are set particularly low and can also cause soil damage. Rejuvenation of the heathland takes place both by means of regrowth from cut stems as well as by seedlings. Deep mowing causes a more intensive release of biomass from the surface.

Burning – fire and flames for the heathland

Controlled burning of heather is a tried-and-tested method of preserving it because over-aged stands are thus rejuvenated and revitalized. Burning is carried out when the raw humus layer has not yet grown too thick, and the proportion of the grasses in the vegetation is still within limits.

After a fire, the seemingly vegetation-free areas are ready for new heather growth. Even in the following year the first heather shoots can appear out of the burnt topsoil. The under-soil parts of the heather tolerate a fire very well, especially when the soil has stored enough moisture to protect the subsurface plant parts and the seeds stored in the soil, or when it is frozen. Common heather is a typical fire-tolerant plant.

Protection and maintenance

The conservation measures are carried out within the nature conservation area by the Verein Naturschutzpark e.V. Detailed information on the protection and care of the heathland is provided in its Nature Information Centre in Undeloh.

Municipalities and local associations also join forces to conserve the heathland by scrub clearing and other measures. If you would like to help, ask your local Nature Park Information Centre for the next scrub clearing date.