Alleviation of Both Water and Nutrient Limitations is Necessary to Accelerate Ecological Restoration of Waste Rock Tips

Julie C. Williamson, Ed C. Rowe, Paul W. Hill, Mark A. Nason, David L. Jones, John R. Healey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Citations (Scopus)


Hard rock quarries are commonly located close to national parks and special areas of conservation and are generally regarded as visually intrusive. Consequently, restoration strategies that effectively accelerate natural plant regeneration processes are required. Slate waste tips present extreme conditions for plant establishment with multiple potential limiting factors (e.g., lack of organic matter, nutrients, and poor water retention). In this study, we investigated ecological strategies to accelerate natural regeneration at the largest slate quarry in Europe. A field experiment was conducted to assess ecosystem restoration using a contrasting set of native woody species. Treatments included amendments of waste tips with: polyacrylamide gel to increase water-holding capacity; mineral fertilizer to increase nutrient supply; and two treatments that increased both (organic waste or boulder clay addition). Ecosystem recovery was evaluated through above- and below-ground productivity (plant and microbial, respectively) and soil analyses. Neither increasing nutrient supply (with mineral fertilizer) nor water-holding capacity (with polyacrylamide gel) was sufficient, alone, to improve plant establishment. However, both boulder clay and organic waste amendment significantly enhanced plant growth. There was a marked positive interaction in the effects on tree growth of the amendment with organic waste and boulder clay. Large interactions occurred between tree species and substrate amendments. The growth of N2-fixing species was strongly favored over non-fixers where there was no addition of material increasing soil nitrogen supply, whereas the growth advantage of pioneer species over non-pioneers was greatest with fertilizer, organic waste, or clay additions. Organic waste addition had the greatest positive impact on soil processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)194-204
Number of pages11
JournalRestoration Ecology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2011
Externally publishedYes

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