The sword lily Gladiolus palustris Gaudin is protected on European level and listed in Annexes II and IV of the EC Habitat Directive 92/43/EEC. It grows in nutrient-poor, calcareous meadows in central and eastern Europe. Tree encroachment in montane meadows of the European Alps as a result of recent land use changes and the abandonment of traditional farming practices threaten the survival of this species. Conservation-driven mowing is considered a feasible conservation measure for maintaining high species diversity in abandoned semi-natural grasslands. To assess the effects of ten years of biennial mowing on a grassland community in the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park, Italy (Site of Community Importance, Natura 2000 network), ten 25 m2 plots were established whereby four plots were placed in the mowed area, four in the non-mowed area and two in a small non-mowed patch of grassland inside the mowed area. In each plot the following variables were recorded, total percentage of plant cover, percentage cover of woody species, percentage cover of herbaceous species, percentage cover and number of flowering ramets of G. palustris and a complete list of species and their percentage abundance. Mowed plots showed a higher species richness than non-mowed plots. The number of G. palustris flowering ramets and percentage cover increased manifold in mowed plots compared to non-mowed plots. The resumption of mowing for conservation purposes undertaken by the managing authority halted the process of tree encroachment and avoided a drastic change in plant composition. Periodic mowing (every second or third year) was demonstrated to be a cost-effective conservation measure in non-productive grasslands to keep grasses at bay in favour of forbs of high conversation value.
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