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Apr 12, 2011

Improvement of wildlife habitats – proper fertilisation plays an important role

Hunting and forestry laws demand an adaptation of the large game population to local farming practice and to the landscape. The creation and maintenance of specific habitats has been included in the appropriate catalogue of measures (wildlife preservation). Hunters as well as farmers have the legal mandate to do this. The conservation measures essentially aim at improving the natural food supply in forests and fields. The state supports these measures with several programmes.


The creation of appropriate wildlife browsing areas has little, or nothing to do with feeding of game animals. Wildlife browsing areas serve to improve year-round provision of natural food supply. The correct choice of location, design, maintenance and nutrient provision offer species-appropriate, high-grade browsing to cloven-hoofed game.

(Photo: fotolia)

Habitat improvement versus browsing pressure

During the winter months, when open fields and meadows lack protection and food, roe deer and other game seek shelter in the woods. This of course raises browsing pressure during the winter months; sometimes the damage is considerable, so that trees and bushes suffer extensively. Whether it’s forest or meadow: Wildlife browsing areas serve to attract cloven-hoofed game, thereby preventing browsing pressure.

Fertiliser options

Nutrient composition* (in %)

Application rate** Effect Remarks***
NPK compound fertiliser blue 12 N, 12 P2O5, 17 K2O (sulphatic) 0.2-0.4t ha-1 relatively fast also contains Mg and S
NPK compound fertiliser red 13 N, 13 P2O5, 21 K2O (chloridic) 0.2-0.4t ha-1 fast generally contains no Mg and S
Soft rock phosphate 15 resp. 26 P2O5 0.3-0.5t ha-1 slow high lime content, in case of pH <5
Calcium or magnesian limestone ca. 50 CaO ca. 1t ha-1 relatively slow optionally with Mg
Thomas slag 45 CaO, 4 P2O5, 3 MgO 0.5-1t ha-1 medium ample supply of trace elements
Magnesia-Kainit® 11 K2O, 5 MgO, 20 Na, 4 S  0.5t ha-1 fast annually, in the spring
Korn-Kali® 40/6 40 K2O, 6 MgO, 3 Na, 4 S 0.2-0.4t ha-1 relatively fast in case of unsatisfactory K-content in soil (<10mg per 100g)
Calcium ammonium nitrate 27 N 0.1-0.2t ha-1 fast spring-time only
Nitrolime (Perlka) 20 N 0.2-0.3t ha-1 slow for preparation of new grazing area, with phytosanitary effect against pests and weeds


Please note: 0.1t fertiliser per hectare (t ha-1) is equivalent to 10kg per 1000qm or 1kg per 100qm.


* N = nitrogen, P2O5 = phosphorous, K2O = potassium, MgO = magnesium, S = sulphur, Ca = lime, Na = sodium
** Application rate e.g. 0.2t ha-1 = 200kg of a fertiliser / 10000qm = 20kg / 1000qm = 2kg / 100qm
*** of these, the following are admissible in organic farming, resp. cultural landscape programmes: Magnesia-Kainit®, Soft rock phosphate, calcium or magnesian limestone.



For the creation of wildlife browsing areas proper fertilisation plays an important role Selecting appropriate fertilisers (see table) is just as important as choosing the right time for the application and the proper application rate. A general rule is to use mineral fertilisers sparingly. Keep in mind that wildlife browsing areas are not agriculturally exploited production areas, and do not need to produce maximum yields. Organic fertilisers such as liquid or solid manure should not be used on browsing areas.

Wildlife browsing areas require sodium fertilisation

There are other aspects that may play a role in the selection of the appropriate fertilisers. Similar to cattle, our domestic cloven-hoofed game (mainly roe deer in Germany) is a ruminant. Sodium (Na) plays an important role in the nutritional physiology of ruminant animals. It is not true that roe deer require sodium for moulting.


Sodium deficiency, however, may cause scrubby coats and hair loss. If identified, this could be seen as an indicator for a nutrient deficiency in the wild animal’s body. An acute Na-deficiency may even lead to fertility disorders in female roe deer. The same is true for red deer, fallow deer, mouflons and game preserves.


Only very few types of plants are capable of absorbing and storing sufficient amounts of sodium. But this will only work as long as there is enough sodium in the soil (5-8mg per 100g soil). In general, sodium cannot be stored in the ground for a long period of time. The only way to provide sufficient sodium to plants and therefore the animals is therefore through fertilisation. Salt licks are a common way of providing sodium to wild animals; while this is definitely helpful, it does not render fertilisation obsolete.

Magnesia-Kainit® is a natural product

All commonly available seed mixes for browsing areas contain Na-loving plants. Among these are white clover and lucerne. It is therefore advisable to fertilise the areas in question with sodium. The only mineral fertiliser with a high content of sodium is Magnesia-Kainit® (20%). It is also approved for organic agriculture and for use in cultural landscape programmes (KuLaP). Application rate is 500 to 800kg ha-1 (equivalent to 5-8kg per 100m2) per annum. It is therefore advisable to repeat the application annually.


Several decades of experience and outdoor testing have shown that browsing areas treated with Magnesia-Kainit® are preferred by wild animals, simply because the forage is tastier. This is mainly due to the fertilisers mineral composition. Magnesia-Kainit® is a natural crude salt, made up of a number of salt components (sodium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium sulphate). In this context, sodium chloride (table salt) is often seen as “the salt of the earth”.


What needs to be taken into consideration when setting up new wildlife browsing areas?

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