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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Cattle population required for favorable conservation status of management-dependent semi-natural grasslands and forests, and associated increase in enteric methane emissions

Danielsson, Rebecca; Hessle, Anna


The state of biodiversity in the world is critical where natural grassland is one of the habitat types showing the strongest deteriorating trend of biodiversity loss. At European Union level, 75 % of all grassland habitats have poor or bad status, with cessation of farming and subsequent overgrowth posing the greatest threat. To achieve favorable conservation status of natural grasslands, the area given over to grazing livestock or hay mowing needs to increase in many regions. The aim of this study was to calculate the number of cattle required to manage various types of unfertilized grazing land, and associated enteric methane emissions from these cattle, using Sweden as the study area. Four different scenarios with various categories of grazing cattle were evaluated: beef suckler cows and their offspring or dairy and beef cows in the current ratio and their offspring, combined with all male calves being raised as grazing steers or with males being raised as grazing steers in the current ratio and other males being raised as indoor bulls. Potential important factors that could reduce the number of additional cattle required were considered. The scenario requiring the smallest number of animals, beef cows and their grazing offspring, gave the lowest methane emissions, 16 kg/ha/year for low-yielding grazing land, such as wooded pasture, and 117 kg/ha/year for high-yielding grazing land, such as wet meadows. Taking all cattle reducing factors into account (mowing parts of the area, lower predicted stocking rate, use of all existing male cattle) significantly reduced the required cattle stock to one-third, corresponding to methane emissions of 5 and 34 kg/ha/year for low and high-yielding grazing land, respectively. In Sweden, 2.2 million ha of grazing land need to be restored to favorable conservation status, which would require 150 000–510 000 new beef cows and their grazing offspring would be needed, producing 33 000 to 109 000 tonnes of methane, compared to the 105 000 tonnes emitted by the present cattle stock (around 300 000 dairy cows and 210 000 beef cows).

Published in

Journal for Nature Conservation
2024, Volume: 78, article number: 126571