Newell Price P.1, Hadden S.2, Rhymer C.3, Francksen R.3, Standen J.3, Thorman R.1, Dowers J.1, Whittingham M.3 and Williams J.1
1ADAS, United Kingdom; 2Ryal Soil & Ecology, United Kingdom; 3School of Natural and Environmental Sciences (SNES), Newcastle University, United Kingdom
Well-managed grasslands can deliver a range of goods and services, including storing carbon, supporting habitat, regulating water flows and providing food and clean water. However, when grassland soils are compacted many of these services can be compromised. Mechanical loosening of grassland soils through spike aeration or ‘sward lifting’ is often promoted as a means of improving soil structure and restoring multiple ecosystem services. This paper presents results from a recent study on the effects of mechanical loosening on grass yields and water infiltration and discusses the results in the context of similar research carried out over the past decade. Several studies have demonstrated that mechanical loosening of ‘moderately compacted’ soil can substantially increase water infiltration rate (4- to 10-fold) and can result in improved grass yield. However, the implications for surface runoff and flooding risk are unclear, and overall grass yield effects appear to vary by site, year and season. Furthermore, one study has indicated short-term impacts on soil earthworm populations and no long-term effect on nitrous oxide emissions. This paper discusses the pros and cons of mechanical loosening within grassland systems and proposes guidance to help farmers and advisers in their decision making.
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