Year-round grazing to counteract effects of atmospheric nitrogen deposition may aggravate these effects

van Dobben, H.F.; Wamelink, G.W.W.; Klimkowska, A.; Slim, P.A.; van Til, M.


Excessive nitrogen input in natural ecosystems is a major threat to biodiversity. A coastal dune area near Amsterdam in the Netherlands suffers from high atmospheric nitrogen deposition affecting sensitive habitats such as fixed coastal dunes with herbaceous vegetation (‘grey dunes’). To mitigate its effect year round grazing was applied from 2007 until 2012. In winter, when natural food supply is low, the cattle received supplementary hay that caused additional inputs of nitrogen. Estimates based on nitrogen contents of hay, as well as of manure, showed the input through winter feeding (c. 3–14 kg N ha-1.y-1) is in the same order of magnitude as both the actual deposition (c. 17 kg N ha-1.y-1) and the critical load for a number of herbaceous habitat types (10–15 kg N ha-1.y-1). Locally, the effect of winter feeding adds to the effect of nitrogen redistribution within the area caused by the cattle's terrain usage. We conclude that winter feeding may aggravate effects of atmospheric nitrogen deposition. Keywords: Vegetation management; Manure; Nitrogen; Eutrophication; Natura 2000; Grey dune