Changes in the vegetation of Ross Links since 1955 and their relation to management (ENRR050)

Three vegetation maps of a large dune system in Northumberland are compared to quantify and interpret vegetation change between 1955 and 1988. The different vegetation classifications of each map required harmonisation to produce a single set of vegetation types for use in comparison. Final vegetation types are related to the National Vegetation Classification. Vegetation change at Ross Links is examined using transition matrices. These reveal slight change in the period covering the early 1950s to 1964, followed by massive change in the period up to the final map of 1986. One dominant trend is the stabilisation of more mobile dunes by linear succession (relay floristics). Between 1964 and 1986 a very large area of semi-fixed dune was converted to fixed dune grassland. The major force of change between 1964 and 1986 was agricultural improvement associated with intensive livestock husbandry. Winter feeding of large numbers of cattle and sheep has resulted in a massive importation of nutrients to the Ross Links dune system and the effects are readily traced in vegetation changes, apart from eutrophication of slacks. Large extents of semi-improved and improved grassland are created, mainly from losses of fixed dune grassland and bracken. Recommendations are made on detecting the early stages of similar vegetation change at other sites, and on management prescriptions to assist site recovery from intensive livestock husbandry. The usefulness of repeated vegetation mapping is discussed as a technique for environmental audit.

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