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Abstract

Restoration ecologists are increasingly aware of the potential to re-create chalk grassland on abandoned farmland. Success is often hampered by lack of desirable species in the seed bank and by poor dispersal from nearby sites. In certain schemes, the input of seed may be essential. Locally collected seed is desirable but availability is limited. We examined whether lower sowing rates than currently recommended may be successfully utilized, facilitating more-efficient use of available seed. Experimental plots on former agricultural land were sown at different rates in a randomized complete block, and the vegetation was surveyed for two years. We compared species richness and cover for chalk grassland plants and weeds - species not associated with chalk grassland communities. Values for cover and abundance were matched with data for communities of the British National Vegetation Classification (NVC). Species richness for chalk grassland plants increased with sowing rate and with time, although after two years there was no significant difference between the treatments sown at 0.4, 1.0, and 4.0 grams of seed per square meter. Weed species decreased with increasing rate and time. After two seasons, the vegetation on all treatment plots was similar to that of recognized NVC chalk grassland communities, while the controls were dominated by weeds and showed signs of developing into species-poor grassland. Higher rates rapidly eliminated weeds, but even a small inoculum of seed seemed to significantly enhance establishment of desirable plants and to reduce weed cover. We conclude that lower sowing rates would enable the desired vegetation to become established successfully, under appropriate conditions and management regimes. Lower rates allow for the re-creation of sizable areas using local seed, and they minimize damage to donor sites.