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AuthorsMusgrove, Nicholas James
Trueman, Ian C.
Hill, M. O.
MetadataShow full item record
AbstractThe plant communities of the Long Mynd plateau are the culmination of over 3000 years of human intervention that largely deforested the uplands, and subsequently maintained the generally treeless heath and grassland communities now extant. The capacity of these communities to respond to directional change is well known, indeed the traditional mode of heathland management, burning, depends on the regenerative capacity of the target species, generally heather (Calluna vulgaris), for its success. However, changes in post WW2 stocking practice; the loss of ponies followed by an increase in the numbers of sheep and a change to them being overwintered on the hill, led to excessive grazing and damage to the heath. This coincided with the spread over the hill by bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) and other changes in the distribution and nature of the vegetation. A sequence of vegetation surveys made by various individuals and organisations over the past 75 years or so has been analysed in an attempt to delineate spatial and temporal changes in the vegetation. This demonstrated the need for a standardised survey methodology to allow consistent monitoring. The analysis showed that bracken had been infiltrating most of the communities from its origins outside the lower limits of the Common as well as from some of the valley sides. Within the last decade, this expansion has apparently been contained in line with the current management plan for control. A survey of 730 quadrats in some 30 stands was made to characterise the variation of the vegetation on the plateau, and to relate it to some of the associated environmental factors. Classification, unconstrained ordination and ordination constrained by the abiotic environmental variables, showed that, a) the strongest trend in the vegetation distinguished water-flushed communities, b) non-wetland communities differentiate between heathland and grassland, c) this trend can be only partly be attributed to the measured abiotic environmental variables, d) the amount of pure Pteridietum [U20] is limited, although much of the heathland and grassland has bracken within it. There are indications that invasion by bracken often correlates with a loss of dominance of Calluna in favour of Deschampsia flexuosa and Vaccinium myrtillus. Difficulties in associating these trends with measured abiotic variables suggests, other factors probably management processes, are critical in driving this trend. Distribution of ‘heathland’ bryophytes was found to be associated more with the structure of their ‘host’ vascular communities rather than with abiotic factors. Finally, this investigation considers the practical implications with regard to the future encouragement of heather and the control of bracken. Cutting rather than burning appears to be the ecologically most suitable method for heather regeneration and bracken control.
PublisherUniversity of Wolverhampton
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy