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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Strip turf to control grass Shrubland and Heathland Conservation

Key messages

Read our guidance on Key messages before continuing

  • One controlled study in the UK found that cutting and removing turf increased the number of heathland plants. The same study found that the presence of a small number of heathland plants increased, and that the presence of a small number of non-heathland plants decreased.
  • One replicated, controlled study in the UK found that presence of heather was similar in areas where turf was cut and areas that were mown or rotovated.
  • One replicated, controlled study in the UK found that the presence of wavy hair grass was similar in areas where turf was cut and those that were mown or rotovated.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

1 

A controlled study in 1983–1989 in two former heathlands converted to grasslands in Dorset, UK (Smith et al. 1991) found that cutting and removing turf increased the number of heathland plant species in two of two cases, increased the presence of heathland plant species in seven of 16 cases, and reduced the presence of a minority of non-heathland plant species for four of 22 cases. After six years, areas where turf had been cut and removed had a higher number of heathland plant species (6–7 species) than areas where turf was not cut (5 species). Presence of heathland plant species was higher in plots where turf was cut than in plots that were uncut in seven of 16 comparisons (cut: 6–87%, uncut: 0–55%), and lower in two of 16 comparisons (cut: 6–37%, uncut: 16-68%). Presence of non-heathland plant species was higher in plots where turf had been cut than in uncut plots in four of 22 comparisons (cut: 4–79%, uncut: 0–15%), and lower in four of 22 comparisons (cut: 1-5%, uncut: 7–26%). In 1983 turf was cut and removed from five 25 m2 plots and in five plots turf was left uncut. In 1989 four 1 m2 quadrats divided into twenty-five 20 cm x 20 cm squares were placed in each plot and the presence of plant species in each square recorded.

2 

A replicated, controlled study in 1996–1998 in a heathland invaded by wavy hair-grass Deschampsia flexuosa in Breckland, UK (Britton et al. 2000) found that cutting turf did not decrease the presence of wavy-hair grass or increase the presence of heather Calluna vulgaris compared to mowing or rotovating. After two years, wavy hair-grass presence in plots where turf had been cut (98%) was not significantly different to presence in mown (100%) or rotovated plots (99%). After two years, heather presence did not differ significantly between plots where turf was cut (24%) and those that had been rotovated (10%) or mown (5%). In August 1996 in five 4 m2 areas turf and soil were removed to a depth of 10 cm, a number of 0.5 ha areas were rotovated, and grass was cut to a height of 10 cm or less in a number of 1–2 ha blocks. Five 4 m2 plots were established in each of the areas subject to different interventions. Each plot was divided into a grid of 20 cm x 20 cm squares and presence of species was recorded in each square twice a year in 1996–1998.

Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Martin P.A., Rocha R., Smith R.K. & Sutherland W.J. (2019) Shrubland and Heathland Conservation. Pages 493-538 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, N. Ockendon, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2019. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.