Ed Tripp – researching the state of UK heathland

Ed Tripp tells us about the work he did as an OPAL scientist at the University of Nottingham, researching the current state of heathland in the UK, and exploring the best ways to conserve this precious habitat.

Ed Tripp looking at soil samples

The decline of heathland

Heathland habitats once extended over several million hectares in western Europe, but now they amount to less than 350,000 hectares.

Not only is the total area of heathland in decline, but it's becoming increasingly fragmented due to afforestation, conversion to agriculture, and urban development.

The damaging effects of pollution

Heathland communities are also being damaged by atmospheric pollution, caused mainly by nitrogen from cars, industry and agriculture.

Pollution is reducing the ability of native heathland plants to grow better than invasive species. It may also lead to further invasion by non-heathland species.

What I wanted to find out

I wanted to identify the local and regional factors that determine heathland vegetation composition and how our heathland is likely to change in the future. Is pollution having a major impact? How are invasive species affecting heathland communities? What effect is climate change having?

Things I investigated

Butterfly in heathland

Diversity of plants, lichens and mosses in a range of heathland, and how this is affected by heathland size, nitrogen pollution, location and environmental characteristics.

Effect of nitrogen pollution on fertility of heathland soils.

Recovery of heathland lichen communities.

Whether species had adapted to the local climate, or if seeds from warmer regions could sustain heathlands in a warmer climate.

My research videos

Watch my video blogs to find out more about my research.