Effects of substrate composition on the establishment of container grown plants during restoration coastal shingle vegetation on Sizewell Beach, Suffolk, England

  • Published source details Walmsley C.A. & Davy A.J. (1997) The restoration of coastal shingle vegetation: Effects of substrate composition on the establishment of container grown plants. Journal of Applied Ecology, 34, 154-165


During the construction of Sizewell 'B' power station in eastern England, a series of methods were investigated for the restoration of the distinctive plant communities of the shingle beach and dunes that would be needed after the inevitable severe disturbance to about 1 km of coastline. The use of container-grown plants in restoring shingle beach vegetation is summarised here.

Study site: The field experiment to examine the effects of organic matter and fertilizer additions on the establishment of six container-grown shingle beach plant species was undertaken on Sizewell beach (National Grid ref: TM 475635), Suffolk, eastern England, where a 1 km stretch of coastline had lost much of its plant cover due to disturbance by heavy machinery during construction of a power station.

Species and planting: Six plant species were selected from the natural vegetation community (number of plants in experiment in parenthesis): sea kale Crambe maritima (4), sea holly Eryngium maritimum (7), yellow-horned poppy Glaucium flavum (22), sea sandwort Honckenya peploides (17), sea pea Lathyrus japonicus (8) and curled dock Rumex crispus (5). Plants were raised from stored seed, indigenous to the site, using standard horticultural techniques. Plants were hardened-off and transferred outside in March, and were 31 weeks old at planting. The 16 plots were planted on 26-27 April and 2-3 May 1990.

Field experiments investigated the efficacy of organic matter and fertilizer treatments as ameliorants to the otherwise dry, nutrient-poor and heterogeneous physical composition of the beach shingle, and examined the influence of position on the beach profile and substrate composition on the establishment of container-grown plants.

Organic matter and fertilizer additions had no significant effect on average plant size in any species after one growing season. Planting location on the beach profile was the most important factor influencing establishment; C.maritima, G.flavum, H.peploides and R.crispus all grew significantly larger in the seaward plots, with more coarse shingle. Only G.flavum produced many reproductive plants during the first year, and these were more frequent and more fecund in the seaward plots.

The establishment of container-grown plants of four of the species was also compared at two sites at similar distances from the sea, one sandy and one shingle-dominated. Again, greater growth on the coarser shingle substrate by three of the most characteristic shingle beach species was observed. Thus, substrate physical composition was probably the primary determinant of differences in performance across the beach profile.

The use of container-grown plants to establish shingle vegetation resulted in low mortality, with rapid plant growth and establishment. Fertilizer and organic matter treatments were not generally cost-effective in establishing shingle beach vegetation from container-grown plants. The authors conclude that the use of resources to recreate an appropriate substrate composition is of far greater importance in restoration of plant communities of such habitats.

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