Long-term heathland restoration on former grassland: The results of a 17-year experiment

Pywell, Richard F. ORCID:; Meek, William R.; Webb, Nigel R.; Putwain, Phillip D.; Bullock, James M. ORCID: 2011 Long-term heathland restoration on former grassland: The results of a 17-year experiment. Biological Conservation, 144 (5). 1602-1609.

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European lowland heaths have declined by up to 80% due to land use change and lack of management. There has been considerable research into the restoration of this threatened habitat. However, long-term outcomes of restoration are poorly understood, especially in situations where past agricultural land use imposes severe constraints on community re-assembly. In 1989 a large-scale experiment was established to examine the effectiveness of five treatments to restore heathland on formerly productive grassland: (i) natural regeneration; (ii) herbicide application to facilitate regeneration; (iii) cultivation and application of seed-rich heathland vegetation; (iv) soil removal and incorporation of heathland topsoil; and (v) heathland translocation. After 17 years the pH of the unamended agricultural soil remained significantly higher than that of the adjacent heathland. All treatments showed different trajectories of vegetation change in the long-term. Natural colonisation by heathland species was slow due to seed limitation, resulting in formation of an acid grassland community. Heathland community assembly was not facilitated by destruction of the initial grassland with herbicide. Incorporation of topsoil had an intermediate effect on pH reduction. This may explain the subsequent failure of the plant community to assemble in the anticipated proportions, and the dominance of leguminous scrub species (Ulex spp.). Turf translocation was effective in reducing pH to the required range and restoring the heathland community in the long-term. However, this technique should only be considered as a means of ‘rescue’ when habitat destruction is otherwise unavoidable. The only practical and sustainable means of increasing heathland extent on former farmland is the application of seed-bearing vegetation cut as part of routine management. However, this technique needs refining in order to establish the full range of characteristic heathland species.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
Programmes: CEH Topics & Objectives 2009 - 2012 > Biodiversity > BD Topic 1 - Observations, Patterns, and Predictions for Biodiversity > BD - 1.3 - Long-term/large-scale monitoring and experiments ...
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Pywell
ISSN: 0006-3207
Additional Keywords: Calluna vulgaris, acid grassland, habitat translocation, community assembly, restoration trajectory, pH, soil fertility
Date made live: 25 May 2011 08:31 +0 (UTC)

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