, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 139-151
Date: 09 Oct 2009

Topsoil inversion as a restoration measure in sand dunes, early results from a UK field-trial


Over-stabilisation and eutrophication affect many dune systems in north-west Europe. This leads to lower diversity of typical dune species and an accumulation of soil nutrients. Existing management techniques to remove excess nutrients include mowing, with removal of cuttings, and turf stripping. A new restoration technique called topsoil inversion or deep ploughing may also be able to counter some of the negative effects of eutrophication. It simulates the burial of established soils with fresh mineral sand, by inverting the soil profile. A trial was carried out on two small blocks of eutrophic dune grassland in North Wales, UK. Nutrient-rich surface soils were buried beneath mineral sub-sand using a double-bladed plough, designed to plough to depths of up to 100 cm. Results show that the organic soil horizons were buried to a depth of 80 cm, and covered with 40–50 cm of mineral sand. The pH and organic matter of the surface layers became comparable to those of mobile dunes. Fifteen months after ploughing, bare sand cover was still 70–90%, but significant sand loss through wind erosion resulted in a thinning of the mineral sand over-burden, leaving the buried organic layer closer to the surface. Natural vegetation colonisation was slow, with the first surviving plants observed after 8 months. The majority of species present at 15 months were present before ploughing and had regenerated from rhizomes or root fragments. The effect of excluding disturbance caused by rabbits, people and dogs was assessed within fenced areas. After 11 months, vegetation cover was greater in the fenced areas than in plots exposed to disturbance, therefore disturbance replaced physical conditions as the dominant influence on plant growth and establishment. These early results suggest the trial has been partially successful, but that topsoil inversion could be combined with other methods such as turf stripping or by stabilisation of the ploughed surface by planting with pioneer species, depending on the ultimate restoration goal.