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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Use herbicide and remove leaf litter to control bracken Shrubland and Heathland Conservation

Key messages

Read our guidance on Key messages before continuing

  • One randomized, controlled study in the UK found that using herbicide and removing leaf litter did not increase total plant biomass after eight years. The same study found that for three of six years, heather biomass was higher in areas where herbicide was sprayed and leaf litter was removed than in areas that were sprayed with herbicide.

Supporting evidence from individual studies


A randomized, controlled study in 1978–1986 in a heathland in Suffolk, UK (Lowday & Marrs 1992) found that the application of herbicide to bracken Pteridium aquilinium followed by the removal of leaf litter and did not increase total plant biomass after eight years, but increased the biomass of heather Calluna vulgaris in three of six years. In August 1978 all plots were sprayed with the herbicide asulam. After herbicide application, leaf litter was removed in four 12 m2 plots and in four plots leaf litter was not removed. Vegetation was visually estimated annually in each plot June or July in 1979-1986.

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.