Traditional meadow irrigation techniques were once widespread throughout Europe and served as a method of grassland intensification before the era of mineral fertilization. Close to Landau (Palatinate), Germany, there are several hectares of traditionally irrigated water meadows that are irrigated twice a year in parts since the medieval age or irrigation has been reinitiated since the 1990. In a research project “WasserWiesenWerte”, we analyzed the ecological and socio-economic value of meadow irrigation. We compared extensively to semi-intensively used meadows with fertilizer application between 0 and 80 kg N/ha per year which were either irrigated or nonirrigated. The results were very motivating. Biomass production is increased by about one-third with irrigation. At the same time, several species groups did not decrease in frequency and diversity in the meadows under irrigation. In contrast, some especially rare species seemed to even profit. Ditch structures turned out to be especially important refuges for sensible meadow species and added a large quantity of additional species to the landscape diversity. We propose that the revitalization of traditional irrigation techniques should be considered when extensively managed grassland—especially hay meadows—are prone to either intensification or abandonment.
Part of the book: Irrigation in Agroecosystems