The restoration of scrub invaded chalk grassland : a comparison of scrub clearance techniques (manual clearance and livestock browsing)
The best way of dealing with the restoration of chalk grassland encroached by scrub is unclear and the subject of many debates. The traditional method is to clear the scrub primarily by manual methods of cutting the scrub and after clearance the land is left to regenerate naturally. More recently the development of using livestock to browse and gradually reduce the scrub is thought to be an alternative. However the effectiveness of either of these methods (Manual clearance or Livestock browsing) is questioned by many and some believe that once scrub has encroached, the soils beneath this will become too enriched to be able to support a chalk grassland flora. This thesis aimed to provide a better understanding by undertaking a five year investigative trial of the two restoration methods and comparing and examining the ability of these to successfully restore a chalk grassland habitat. To undertake this both methods were trailed on scrub invaded chalk grassland and changes in vascular plants and invertebrates were monitored throughout trial period. Areas of nonintervention scrub were also included to act as controls. Successful restoration was assessed by comparing the results from the trials with measurable vascular plant restoration targets that were identified and set from known chalk grasslands in favourable condition. Soil fertility within the trial area was also examined to determine if the soils were considered to fertile to support a chalk grassland flora and costs and practicalities of using ether method were recorded throughout enabling these to be taken into account. The results showed that differences in both the species richness and composition of vascular plants and spider and beetles invertebrate species occurred. Soil fertility was found to suitable to support chalk grassland plants and vascular plants species were identified as moving away from those associated with scrub into those associated with chalk grasslands. It was observed however that on the areas trailed using Manual clearance, an initial flush of ruderal species occurred after clearance, it was therefore concluded that for Manual clearance to be successful continued restoration management is required if these species are to be controlled. It was also observed that the areas trailed using Manual clearance were moving towards successful restoration quicker those trailed using Livestock browsing thus indicating that the rate of change is more gradual using Livestock browsing. This rate of change was also found to occur within the invertebrate beetles and spider communities. Species richness within the spider communities however decreased on the areas manually cleared. Costs of using the restoration methods showed that the use of Livestock browsing was five times more costly that using Manual clearance. However it was found that majority of Livestock browsing costs incurred through welfare and husbandry of the stock. Restoration using Manual clearance also involved using livestock once scrub had been cleared however the costs of these were born by a local grazier and thus did not show as a cost of restoration. It was concluded that if a grazier is not found then these costs would be incurred. Overall it is concluded that both Livestock browsing and Manual clearance have the ability to successfully restore a chalk grassland community but that this must be viewed as a long term objective. Restoration management is critical to continue after clearance until restoration targets have been met.