Changes in vegetation and soil chemical properties at restored heathland sites in Dorset, England

  • Published source details Mitchell R.J., Marrs R.H, Le Duc M.G. & Auld M.H.D. (1999) A study of the restoration of heathland on successional sites: changes in vegetation and soil chemical properties. Journal of Applied Ecology, 36


Lowland heaths in Britain support a characteristic fauna and flora, including a number of species of conservation concern. As such they are of high conservation priority but many areas have been invaded by trees primarily birch Betula spp. and Scots pine Pinus sylvestris, the native but invasive bracken Pteridium aquilinum and the alien highly invasive rhododendron Rhododendron ponticum. As succession progresses, changes occur in both the vegetation and the soil chemical properties of the site.

Nine heathland sites in Dorset, southern England where management of successional sites to restore heathland had occurred were studied. The efficacy of heathland restoration in terms of both the vegetation and the soil chemical properties was assessed.

Study sites: In 1996 a structured sampling strategy was set up in the Poole Basin area of Dorset, southern England. Nine heathland areas within the Basin were selected. These are all in close proximity (within a 20 km radius) of each other and should experience similar climate; all lie on a similar parent material, the Bagshot beds.

Restoration assessment: Within each area there were examples of open heathland, successional and managed sites. The efficacy of heathland restoration in terms of both the vegetation and the soil chemical properties was assessed.

The management of the heathland restoration sites under going successional changes primarily due to tree, shrub an bracken invasion, had allowed many heath plant species to re-establish and the majority of sites to start to become similar to the neighbouring heathland.

The reversion of increased soil nutrients was found to be more problematic, with levels of ammonium–nitrogen, phosphorus, pH, calcium and magnesium remaining greater than those of the nearby open heathland soils.

Conclusions: The successional species present before management affected the success of reversion; management of Scots pine Pinus sylvestris sites was generally more successful than management of others sites, especially those invaded by birch Betula. The most significant effect of different management techniques resulted from litter-stripping, which reduced the nutrients and improved and accelerated the success of reversion back to heathland with a characteristic dwarf shrub plant community.

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