Strip/disturb topsoil (alongside planting/seeding)

How is the evidence assessed?
  • Effectiveness
    60%
  • Certainty
    35%
  • Harms
    0%

Source countries

Key messages

  • Two replicated, controlled studies in the UK found that removal of topsoil and addition seed/clippings increased cover of heathland plants or cover of heather and gorse. One controlled study in the UK found that soil disturbance using a rotovator and spreading clippings of heathland plants (alongside mowing) increased the number of heathland plants.
  • One replicated, controlled study in the UK found that stripping the surface layers of soil and adding seed reduced the cover of perennial rye-grass. One randomized, replicated, paired, controlled study in the UK found that removal of topsoil and addition of the clippings of heathland plants did not alter the cover of annual grasses but led to a decrease in cover of perennial grasses.

About key messages

Key messages provide a descriptive index to studies we have found that test this intervention.

Studies are not directly comparable or of equal value. When making decisions based on this evidence, you should consider factors such as study size, study design, reported metrics and relevance of the study to your situation, rather than simply counting the number of studies that support a particular interpretation.

Supporting evidence from individual studies

  1. A replicated, controlled study in 2001–2006 in ten improved grasslands in Dorset, UK (Diaz et al. 2007) found that stripping the surface layers of soil, followed by spreading of heather Calluna vulgaris clippings increased cover of heather and gorse Ulex europaeus, and decreased the cover of perennial rye-grass Lolium perenne. After five years, areas where the soil surface had been stripped and heather clippings spread had higher cover of both heather and gorse (heather: 6%; gorse: 21%) than areas where soil was not stripped and heather clippings were not spread (heather: 0%; gorse: 0%). Plots where the soil surface had been stripped and heather clippings spread also had lower cover of perennial rye-grass (1%) than areas where soil had not been stripped and heather clippings were not spread (24%). In April 2001 soil was stripped to a depth of 10 cm in ten 400 m2 plots after which heather clippings were spread over the plots. Soil was not stripped and heather clippings were not spread in ten 2500 m2 plots. In June 2006 plant cover was assessed using ten 4 m2 quadrats randomly located in each plot.

    Study and other actions tested
  2. A controlled study in 1983-1989 in two grasslands in Dorset, UK (Smith et al. 1991) found that mowing followed by rotovating, and the spreading of clippings of heathland plants increased the number of heathland plant species in two of two cases, and increased the presence of heathland plant species in 3 of 16 comparisons, but increased the presence of non-heathland plant species for 2 of 22 comparisons after six years. In two of two cases areas that had been mowed, rotovated and spread with heathland clippings had a higher number of heathland plant species (4-7 species) than areas that had not been mowed, rotovated, and spread with clippings (1-5 species). Presence of heathland plant species was higher in areas that had been mowed, rotovated and spread with heathland clippings than in areas that had not been mowed, rotovated, and spread with clippings in 3 of 16 comparisons (cut: present in 1-16% of plots, uncut: present in 0% of plots). Presence of non-heathland plant species was higher in areas that had been mowed, rotovated and spread with heathland clippings than in areas that had not been mowed, rotovated, and spread with clippings in 1 of 22 comparisons (cut: present in 12% of plots, uncut: present in 4% of plots). In 1983 five 25 m2 plots were mowed and rotovated and subsequently spread with clippings harvested from a mature heathland and five plots were left unmowed and unrotovated, and were not spread with clippings. In 1989 four 1 m2 quadrats divided into twenty-five 20 x 20 cm squares were placed in each plot and the presence of plant species in each square recorded.

    Study and other actions tested
  3. A randomized, replicated, paired, controlled study in 1993–2002 in three former grassland sites in the UK (Allison & Ausden 2004) found that removal of topsoil and addition of heathland clippings increased cover of heathland species, did not alter cover of annual grasses, but led to a decrease in perennial grass cover. After nine years, cover of heathland species was higher in areas where topsoil was removed and clippings were added (58%) than in areas where topsoil was not removed and clippings were not added (0%). Cover of annual grasses was not significantly different in areas where topsoil was removed and clippings added (2%) and areas where topsoil was not removed or clippings added (1%). However, the cover of perennial grasses was lower in areas where topsoil was removed and clippings were added (6%) than in areas where topsoil was not removed and clippings were not added (83%). Heathland clippings were collected from an intact heathland in September 1996. In 1993 topsoil was removed from twelve 3 x 3 m plots while in another twelve plots topsoil was not removed. Clippings were spread on the plots where topsoil was removed in November 1996. The cover of plant species in each plot was estimated in July and August 2002 using a point quadrat.

    Study and other actions tested
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.

Where has this evidence come from?

List of journals searched by synopsis

All the journals searched for all synopses

Shrubland and Heathland Conservation

This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:

Shrubland and Heathland Conservation
Shrubland and Heathland Conservation

Shrubland and Heathland Conservation - Published 2017

Shrubland and Heathland synopsis

What Works in Conservation

What Works in Conservation provides expert assessments of the effectiveness of actions, based on summarised evidence, in synopses. Subjects covered so far include amphibians, birds, terrestrial mammals, forests, peatland and control of freshwater invasive species. More are in progress.

More about What Works in Conservation

Download free PDF or purchase
The Conservation Evidence Journal

The Conservation Evidence Journal

An online, free to publish in, open-access journal publishing results from research and projects that test the effectiveness of conservation actions.

Read latest volume: Volume 17

Go to the CE Journal

Subscribe to our newsletter

Please add your details if you are interested in receiving updates from the Conservation Evidence team about new papers, synopses and opportunities.

Who uses Conservation Evidence?

Meet some of the evidence champions

Endangered Landscape Programme Red List Champion - Arc Kent Wildlife Trust The Rufford Foundation Save the Frogs - Ghana Bern wood Supporting Conservation Leaders National Biodiversity Network Sustainability Dashboard Frog Life The international journey of Conservation - Oryx British trust for ornithology Cool Farm Alliance UNEP AWFA Butterfly Conservation People trust for endangered species Vincet Wildlife Trust