Newborough Warren is a large calcareous west coast UK dune system, which has experienced rapid vegetation spread in the last 70 years. Information from two high resolution chronosequences for dry and wet dune habitats, 0–145 years, was used to answer the following questions: Does climate influence colonisation of vegetation on bare sand? What are the timescales and sequences of successional change in the vegetation? Analysis of aerial photographs showed that stabilisation of the dune system since 1945 has occurred in three main phases. The onset of stabilisation predated myxomatosis by 10 years; while stabilisation virtually halted during the period 1964–1978. Periods of rapid stabilisation were coincident with higher values of Talbot’s Mobility index (M) > 0.3. Successional development was apparent in both dry and wet habitats. Fixed dune grassland started to replace earlier successional communities at around 40 years, and could persist to 145 years. Linear succession in dune slacks was less apparent, but a separation between communities typically regarded as ‘younger’ and ‘older’ occurred at around 40 years. Species richness in dry dune habitats increased with age to a maximum on soils around 60 years old, then declined again. Species richness was unrelated to age or soil development in wet dune slacks. The influence of climate suggests that conservation managers can only operate within the constraints imposed by natural climatic conditions. Vegetation growth and soil development are closely linked and maintaining some open areas is key to preventing soil development and over-stabilisation
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