Summering pastures are pastures located at altitudes subject to extensive use only. These pastures receive no or very little fertilizers, thus giving rise to highly diverse and specialized species assemblages. Summering pastures are freely accessible and offer a space for leisure pursuits. They also contribute significantly to a diverse scenery; especially the summering pastures in the Alps enhance the scenic qualities of the landscape in the montane forest zone.
Between 1979 and 1997, the area covered by summering pasture in Switzerland declined by 19,440 hectares, representing a relative decline of 3.6%. In the following period (1992/97 to 2004/09), this trend slowed slightly. Due to the resulting decline in both agricultural and biological diversity, this trend is assessed as negative. In the latest samples between 1992 and 2009, a decline of 10,074 hectares, i.e. 1.9%, was recorded. The entire summering pasture area totalled 513,860 hectares in the last survey period (between 2004/2009).
All regions in Switzerland are similarly affected by the decline, which is mostly due to ongoing scrub encroachment for economic reasons. It results in the small-scale mosaic being replaced by a more uniform landscape with a variety of forest areas. These are generally less accessible and therefore provide less room for leisure pursuits. Moreover, the species composition changes. Once the summering pastures have developed into woodlands, it is practically impossible under current law to return them to their former state. Agricultural policy is attempting to mitigate this trend.
There is no comparable indicator in the European Union. CORINE land cover category 231 for pastures would be the closest land cover category to it in terms of content.
The data on summering pastures - colloquially referred to as alpine pastures - are included in the Swiss land-use statistics under the category of alpine farmland. This category comprises five types of land cover: "Maiensässe" (seasonally occupied high-altitude outlier farms as part of the Swiss alpine transhumance system), alpine hay meadows and mountain pastures, shrubby pastures of the Alps and Jura mountains, "Schafalpen" (alpine pasture with low accessibility used for sheep/goats), "Wildheuplanggen" (alpine grassland with low accessibility periodically used for haymaking), favourable pastures of the Alps and Jura mountains, rocky pastures of the Alps and Jura mountains.