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Owen, N. W., Kent, M., Dale, P.: Ecological effects of cultivation on the machair sand dune systems of the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Journal of Coastal Conservation, 6: 155-170, 2000.


Abstract. The machair sand dune systems of the Outer Hebrides of Scotland are a unique habitat, which is rare within both a global and European context. Unusually, the machair habitat also represents an agricultural resource that is very important to the Hebridean people, having been subject to both grazing and cultivation throughout the historical period. Following designation as an Environmentally Sensitive Area (ESA) in 1988, the machairs of South Uist have been studied with the aim of understanding the links between agricultural practice and their plant community and ecosystem dynamics. This research focused primarily on the effects of cultivation practices and their role in maintaining plant species richness and community and ecosystem stability. Within two carefully selected areas, the successional plant communities of machair at different stages of recovery following ploughing and cultivation of cereals and potato patches or ‘lazy beds’ were identified at both a macro- and micro-level. Investigations of the vegetation recovery processes on turves taken from newly ploughed land indicated that the initial stages of recolonization are characterized primarily by rapid vegetative reproduction and growth, although re-vegetation by seeds is also an important factor. The implications of these findings for the long-term management of machair plant communities are discussed and in particular the need to maintain old cultivation practices such as shallow ploughing. The need for more detailed research into both seed banks and seed rain and into processes of vegetative reproduction is stressed.

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