Cattail

    By cultivating cattail, raw material can be gained, and at the same time wetlands for rare species can be restored. This project evaluates the technical feasibility and the effects on the environment.

    Aims

    The cattail is a native plant species, which has been used for energy production, medicine (cotton-wool substitute), food and clay production over centuries. Thus far, however, it has not been used commercially. Positive experiences were made in Bavaria, Germany and Estonia. A small test plot has now also been established in Switzerland near Lucerne (Geuensee). Since the cattail is typically found on periodically flooded, damp and nutrient-rich soils, its cultivation on flooded agricultural soils is possible. Cattail fields are virtually identical with natural swamps in terms of morphology and thus could provide important habitats for numerous threatened species.

    In its project area of the Wauwil plain, the Swiss Ornithological Institute and partners have implemented a cattail test field. Time of harvest, harvest methods and durations of flooding are evaluated with respect to its benefits for wildlife. New cattail fields are implemented to enhance the currently rare wetlands in the Wauwil plain and to offer new habitat for threatened wetland species.

    At the same time, a marketing strategy is being developed as well as a test production of cattail construction materials (insulating material, cattail rendering, mats).

    Approach

    A 1 ha-field next to a nature reserve was chosen as test field. A near-by pump station was converted to allow regulated flooding of the field. The humus was removed and piled up at the borders of the field as framing dams to prevent water damage on neighbouring parcels. The field was sown with cattail seeds. A monitoring programme was set up to evaluate effects of various flooding regimes on birds, amphibians and dragonflies.

    Significance

    This project documents the effects of an innovative idea for threatened farmland species. By cultivating cattail, it might become possible to establish ecologically important areas on land which is prone to re-wetting such as formerly natural reed regions of Switzerland (Orbe plain, Berner Seeland, Rhine valley of St. Gallen, Linth plain) and therefore involves expensive restoration of land-improvement utilities. This work opens up new possibilities for the protection of the fauna in wetland areas.

    Results

    Our investigations have shown that cattail fields can have a particularly positive influence on dragonflies, amphibians and birds (especially on rails, dabbling ducks and small heron species). All four rail species regularly breeding in Switzerland settled in the cattail field of the Wauwil plain, and garganey, Eurasian teal, little bittern und night heron could regularly be observed. They likely benefited from plentiful food resources in the form of the large population of water frogs, which has established within little time.

    Project management

    Roman Graf, Petra Horch

    Partners

    Seecon GmbH, Wolhusen
    Strafanstalt Wauwilermoos

    Financial support

    Zigerli-Hegi-Stiftung

    The State Secretariat for Economic Affairs SECO supports the project within the framework of a programme to support and promote structural changes in agrarian areas (Regio Plus).