Establishment of heathland vegetation on two abandoned fields at Stoborough Heath, Dorset, England
Published source details
Smith R.E.N., Webb N.R. & Clarke R.T. (1991) The establishment of heathland on old fields in Dorset, England. Biological Conservation, 57, 221-234.
In Western Europe, heather Calluna vulgaris-dominated lowland heaths constitute important semi-natural habitats. In England, much heathland has been lost to e.g. development and agriculture. At some former heathland localities, attempts are being made to reinstate heathland vegetation. On agricultural land this often requires a reduction in soil fertility. This small-scale experiment aimed to establish heath vegetation on two abandoned fields in Dorset, southern England.
Stoborough Heath NNR (ll0 ha) was purchased for conservation in 1982. It included two fields (A and B; converted to farmland from dry heath in the 1960s) of about 10 ha, both abandoned in the late 1970s. After several years cultivation, field A was grass sown in 1976/77 and horse/cattle-grazed; a few heathland plants e.g. C.vulgaris and dwarf gorse Ulex minor, were present at the start of the experiment. Field B had been cultivated (mainly rye) until abandonment, and was covered in arable weeds.
In autumn 1983, in each field, 25 (5 x 5 m) plots were established and four treatments plus a control (left untouched) applied:
1) mowing and removal of cuttings;
2) turf stripping to 3-5 cm depth;
3) mowing, removal of cuttings, then rotovated;
4) as (3) plus flailed heathland cuttings, litter and soil from nearby heathland spread over plots in autumn. (Samples of this material kept in a greenhouse produced many heather seedlings and vegetative regrowth from root fragments).
In May 1989, percentage rooting frequency of vegetation was recorded in 1 m² sample quadrats (presence/absence of higher plants, ferns and mosses noted for each of 25, 20 x 20 cm subdivisions).
In 1989, 56 plant species were recorded, 12 of which were considered 'heathland' species (all 12 present Field A; 7 in Field B). Field A had fairly continuous C.vulgaris, bell heather Erica cinerea and U.minor (all heath species)cover over large areas. Field B was dominated by two annual grasses, soft-brome Bromus hordeaceus and squirrel-tail fescue Vulpia bromoides, and ribwort plantain Plantago lanceolata with common sorell Rumex acetosella. C.vulgaris, E.cinerea and U.minor were thinly spread (resembling Field A at the start of the experiment).
Two treatments clearly favoured development of heath vegetation: the average number of heathland species was significantly greater on turf-stripped plots and those which had been rotovated and heathland material added. Turf stripping was most effective, leading to significantly greater average rooting frequency of heathland species than any other treatment.
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