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Keywords:

  • Atmospheric nitrogen deposition;
  • Conservation grazing;
  • Ellenberg;
  • Newborough Warren;
  • Permanent quadrats

Abstract

Question: Can long-term grazing management maintain and restore species-rich sand dune plant communities within a sand dune site of high conservation interest?

Location: Newborough Warren, North Wales, UK.

Methods: Vegetation changes that occurred between 1987 and 2003, subsequent to grazing by domestic livestock being introduced to the site after decades with little or no stock grazing, were analysed using data collected from permanent monitoring quadrats over a 16-year period.

Results: At the plant community level, grazing brought about a shift from a tall-grass dominated, species-poor community to a more species-rich community in the dry dunes, but did not change community type in dune slacks. However, at the species level, grazing enhanced the abundance of some desired perennial, annual and biennial species, graminoids and bryophytes in both habitat types. The increased frequency of positive indicator species for habitat condition suggests that grazing was beneficial for species of conservation interest. Ellenberg nitrogen (N) values decreased after grazing in dry habitats but showed no long-term change independent of grazing, suggesting no increase in site fertility over the study period. Surprisingly, light (L) values also decreased in the dry dunes after grazing.

Conclusions: Long-term grazing management can play an important role for the conservation of dune communities and associated species. Because of its positive effects on species diversity, plant communities and habitat condition in sand dunes, livestock grazing is recommended for conservation management.