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Fewer Alpine pastures

Mountain pastures shape our image of the Alps, but farming them is a costly business and, in many places, it is now scarcely worthwhile. © Darkroom-Daze/flickr.com

It is not the number of Alms (mountain pastures) that is in decline: rather it is the area of pastureland being worked, according to the preliminary results of the work on the "Alm Atlas".
The "Alm Atlas" is a reference book on the development of mountain pastures since 1900 in the Arge-Alp regions of Bavaria, Graubünden, St. Gallen, Salzburg, Tyrol, Vorarlberg, South Tyrol and Trentino. It will appear next year, but the first content has already been published. In these eight regions some 9,500 pastures are worked, mainly for grazing young cattle. Dairy farming only plays a more significant role in Vorarlberg, Trentino and the two Swiss cantons of Graubünden and St. Gallen.
The number of pastures has not substantially changed over the last 100 years: in some regions there are now fewer, in others more, because for example co-operatively managed Alms have been divided. The number of worked Alpine pastures is however in constant decline. There are three causes: with the exception of Switzerland, no extra money is forthcoming for milk produced up on the pastures; milk cows therefore remain in the valleys. The income produced by Alpine dairy farming is also small, so labour-intensive pasture areas lie fallow while Alpine farmers earn more money doing other jobs on the side. Finally, development funds are usually linked to numbers of animals, with no special incentive for maintaining the mountain pastures themselves.
The decrease in pastures is not without its consequences: forests are reconquering the pasturelands and old cultivated landscapes are disappearing, with a reduction in species diversity. On the other hand, more wooded areas mean better protection against erosion and flooding as well as more CO2 storage.
Source and further information: www.almtage2012.com/app/download/5785233346 (de), www.almtage2012.com/app/download/5785236192, http://kurier.at/wirtschaft (de), www.provincia.bz.it/usp/285.asp?aktuelles (it)