The history of the landscape and land use
Except for the rocky areas, all the habitats are a cultural landscape that has
been influenced by human activity. On the south facing slopes there are still
areas of ancient oak forest, the other hillsides are covered by forests rich in
beech trees, whilst limes and elms are to be found on the north-facing hills.
The rocks and their surrounding areas provide habitats for heat-loving dry forests,
dry shrubs and small expanses of dry grassland. Scree slopes are home to a wide variety of plant and animal species
Since Roman times, and particularly since about 800 AD, the region has experienced increased human settlement. Vineyards were first established on the valley floor. In addition to cultivating wine, the settlers grazed their cattle and cleared the forests for agriculture. In the centuries that followed, winegrowing spread to the slopes and tributary valleys. Only at the end of the
19th century was there a noticeable decline in wine cultivation as a result of
the phylloxera (vine aphid) epidemic. Many of the vineyards now became orchards (especially sweet and sour cherries). By about 1960, commercial fruit
growing on the Middle Rhine had virtually disappeared due to the high input
involved. As a result, the dry habitats which had originally been rare, increased in size and today they still provide valuable refuges for a host of plant and animal species. Scrub encroachment (reafforestation) is on the increase and poses a particular threat to the dry habitats. It is hoped that extensive grazing regimes
will help keep these spaces free of scrub.