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MILES felled birch plots: MOORCO – Moorland colonisation

Felled birch plot with planted heather and mature birch plot.
We study the duriability of the impacts of trees on moorland communities


These plots are part of the MOORCO project. A replicated experiment was established at one site in the early 1980s to test the durability of the engineering effects of birch on soil properties. Birch woodland established on previously heather dominated moorland was felled and heather planted. Our data is allowing us to assess how long it takes for woodland soils to revert to a soil characteristic of moorland.

Key results

  •  After 20 years soil chemical properties, microarthropod communities and decomposition rates were not significantly different between plots with and without the birch.
  • However, the mass of the soil O-horizon was significantly greater in the felled birch plots than in the control birch plots, providing the first indication of a change towards soil properties more typical of a Calluna moorland.

  • The work also shows that the role of birch in driving changes in the ecosystem is durable 20 years after the removal of the birch.

See Publications for further details of results. 


Site Nam e  Grid reference
Craggan (b) NJ197327

Experimental design


  • Mature birch woodland naturally colonised on heather moorland (Birch control)
  • Planted heather plots where birch was felled and heather planted (Felled plots)


Paired plot design, 6 control plots and 6 felled plots

Data collected

Data type Date Details
Vegetation 1985, 2003 Species composition (% cover)
Soil chemistry 1978, 1986, 2003 Al, C, C:N, Ca, Ca, Fe, K, LOI, Mg, Mn, moisture, N, Na, N-mineralization, P, pH
Soil microbial 2003 PLFAs and DGGE
Decomposition rates 2003 Filter papers and wooden sticks
Soil physical properties 1978, 2003 LFH depth, O depth, bulk density
Tree density and size 2003 Number, height and DBH
Soil invertebrates 2004 Collembolla and mites (to species) Enchytraeidaes numbers


MOORCO is a collaborative project across several groups and themes within the James Hutton Institute and with many different staff involved. In the first instance please contact Dr Ruth Mitchell for further details.


Areas of Interest

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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.