Godefroid, S., U. Sansen, N. Koedam
Temperate heaths have an unfavorable conservation status in most European biogeographical regions. Increasing nitrogen levels promote competitive grass species such as Molinia caerulea, which is a main threat to heathland conservation in Europe. This article investigates the long‐term influence of sod cutting and the resulting changes in soil properties on the heath composition, integrity, and structure. In 15 nature reserves across the northern half of Belgium, we used (1) a large number of plots (203); (2) a broad range of sod cut depths (2–40 cm), and (3) a temporal dimension that describes how long the effects of sod cutting persist (census up to 19 years after sod cutting). There was a positive relationship between sod cut depth and soil pH and water level, and a negative relationship with Al3+, NH4+, and total organic matter (TOM). However, only a limited number of typical (target) species appeared after sod cutting, and then only weakly. Most of the time they remained a minor component of the restored vegetation. Moreover, M. caerulea reappeared and its cover significantly increased during the years following sod cutting. Although we were able to show that sod cut depth has a differential effect on soil properties and vegetation recovery, it also appeared that sod cutting does not restore wet heaths in the long term when applied in regions with high nitrogen deposition.