Development of an indicator of footpath erosion in Warwickshire using Plantain (Plantago spp)

  • Richard Barnard

    Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Science by Research


    The control of erosion has long been a problem for land managers. With limited budgets the need for a cost-effective method that can estimate the vulnerability of the soil to erosion has never been greater. With its accepted ability to withstand high levels of compaction, this study investigates the possibility of using changes in Plantago cover as an indicator of the early stages of the breakdown in soil structure, an established precursor of erosion.

    The study was carried out along a 1.34 km stretch of pathway, which runs over an improved grassland meadow south of the City of Coventry, England during a 346 day period from mid September 2006 to August 2007. Samples were taken during the winter (November 2006 – January 2007) and summer (August 2007). Three sections were identified representing high, low and intermediate use and thirty transects were set up across the path in each section, each with four quadrats. Vegetation cover and soil samples were taken from each quadrat. 
    Season was seen to have a marked influence on Plantago cover indicating the iteroparous nature of Plantago and hence its limitations as an indicator. During the summer, no significant relationship was identified between soil compaction and Plantago, although a significant (P<0.001) negative correlation was identified between Plantago and user numbers along the centre of the path. Along the transect Plantago cover was significantly (P<0.05) greater in the transition zone (either side of the centre of the path) where trampling was less. Thus, although, it would appear that Plantago has its limitations as an indicator of compaction, its presence does appear to be related to the level of trampling as part of a threshold effect. Under light trampling Plantago is largely absent as it appears to be out competed by more competitive grass species, while under heavy trampling it is also absent due to the abrasive action of footfalls. Given that trampling is strongly related to compaction, the increasing presence of Plantago in the sward may therefore provide an early warning of potential soil erosion.
    Date of Award2009
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorJames Bennett (Supervisor)

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