Germination and seedling survival of four sown perennial herbs under different mowing regimes on an ex-arable chalk grassland restoration site, Castle Hill National Nature Reserve, East Sussex, England

  • Published source details Hutchings M.J. & Booth K.D. (1996) Studies of the feasibility of re-creating chalk grassland vegetation on ex-arable land. 2. Germination and early survivorship of seedlings under different management regimes. Journal of Applied Ecology, 33, 1182-1190


In the UK, areas of ex-arable land have become available for potential habitat restoration due to agricultural extensification policies. As part of more extensive studies of the feasibility of re-creating chalk grassland vegetation on ex-arable land, germination and establishment of four chalk grassland perennial plants were compared in undisturbed chalk grassland and on ex-arable land where the vegetation was either uncut, cut or completely cleared.

Study site: The study was undertaken at Castle Hill National Nature Reserve (National Grid ref: TQ 370060), East Sussex, southeast England.

Study plants: Germination and seedling establishment of four sown chalk grassland perennials (burnet-saxifrage Pimpinella saxifraga, small scabious Scabiosa columbaria, hoary plantain Plantago media and yarrow Achillea millefolium) were compared in undisturbed chalk grassland and on ex-arable land. Treatments were:

Four treatments (five replicate 0.25 x 0.25 cm plots sown with seed of each species on 30 April) were applied:

i) Chalk grassland - grazed by European rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus and invertebrates;

ii) Ex-arable cleared - vegetation cut to ground level before sowing and regularly cut (except for study species) throughout the experiment;

iii) Ex-arable cut - vegetation cut to 3 cm before sowing and maintaine at this height (including study species if above this height);

iv) Ex-arable uncut - vegetation eft uncut before sowing and throughout the experiment.

Five control plots in which no seed was sown were also established per treatment. Sufficient seed was sown to give 500 seedlings per plot if germination in the field matched that of laboratory germination trials conducted prior to the field experiments.

Germination success: All species had significantly higher germination success in the laboratory than the field except for P. saxifraga in cut ex-arable (2% higher; 19% in lab; 2-21% in field). For the other species germination rates were: A. millefolium (97%  vs. 4-46% in field); P. media (82% vs. 2-32% in field); S. columbaria (24% vs. 0.1-7% in field). Germination was very low  for all four species in uncut plots on ex-arable (0.1 to 1.8%). Germination of A. millefolium (46%) and P. media (32%) was highest in cleared (cut to ground) ex-arable and P. saxifraga (21%) highest in cut ex-arable.

Seedling survival: Overall, seedling survival was highest in cut ex-arable intermediate in cleared ex-arable and lowest in chalk grassland. The greatest differences in survivorship between treatments occurred during the first 2 weeks of germination, regardless of date and weather. Survivorship decreased from cut ex-arable to cleared ex-arable to chalk grassland. No seedlings of the trial species were recorded in controls on ex-arable suggesting that seedlings came from sown seeds rather than the seed bank. Some adult S.columbaria and P.saxifraga plants were present in the chalk grass plots but numbers of seedlings were very low in the controls ( - 7; S.columbaria - 8 and P.saxifrage - 9 in total).

Conclusions: Sowing with a mowing management regime which reduced vegetation height appeared to enhance establishment of the chalk grassland species sown on the ex-arable restoration sites.

Note: If using or referring to this published study, please read and quote the original paper.

Output references

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 the latest volume: Volume 18

Go to the CE Journal

Discover more on our blog

Our blog contains the latest news and updates from the Conservation Evidence team, the Conservation Evidence Journal, and our global partners in evidence-based conservation.

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