Wooded meadows on the Baltic Island of Öland result from traditional agricultural management over centuries which has led to a species‐rich vegetation with high species diversity. Today, nearly all of these meadows have been abandoned and became rapidly overgrown by deciduous shrub and tree species forming a closed canopy which resulted in a rapid and strong decrease in species numbers of the herb layer. Recent efforts aim to restore overgrown wooded meadows by cutting single shrubs and trees to open the canopy. However, the effects of abandonment as well as of any restoration management in wooded meadows have rarely been documented until now. Mechanisms driving succession after restoration such as the dispersal potential of the respective species over time and space have not been analysed yet. Therefore, a chronosequence was studied which included a traditionally managed wooded meadow, an overgrown meadow which has been abandoned for more than 100 yr and a meadow which was restored 36 yr ago by cutting and is now grazed. We analysed the soil seed bank of the 3 meadows in comparison with the established vegetation and endozoochorous seed dispersal by cattle and sheep. After abandonment 87% of the typical grassland species vanished from the established vegetation and were replaced by species characteristic of woodland and disturbed grassland communities. The mean number of species decreased from 52 species per plot (4 m2) to 18 species. Mean species number and number of seeds in the seed bank declined significantly from the traditionally managed to the overgrown meadow. Most of the grassland species were assigned to a transient seed bank type while only 1/3 could be classified as having a short‐term persistent seed bank. Thus, restoration of wooded meadows cannot rely on the soil seed bank. Endozoochorous seed dispersal by cattle and sheep was shown for 15% of the species with seed densities per 100 g air dried dung of 737 and 767, respectively. Movement of animals between ancient and restored wooded meadows is recommended since many of the species only occurred in low densities and therefore, will probably not be found in the dung samples.
Nomenclature: Oberdorfer (1994).