Park Grass

Local identifier
R/PG/5
Years operational
1856—
Objective
Originally to study the effects of organic and inorganic amendments and lime on old grass for hay, latterly also for effects on botanical composition.
Description
Because of the earlier experiments had showed that different crops require different amounts and ratios of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (p) and potassium (K), Lawes and Gilbert extended their experiments in 1856 to include the mixed plant population of old grassland. The Park Grass experiment was established on c.2.8 ha of parkland that had been in permanent pasture for at least 100 years. Started by Lawes and Gilbert in 1856, its original purpose was to investigate ways of improving the yield of hay by the application of inorganic fertilisers or organic manures. Within 2-3 years it became clear that these treatments were having a dramatic effect on the species composition of what had been a uniform sward comprising about 50 species. Dramatically different swards have evolved as a result of the different pH and nutrient status of the soils. There are 35-45 species on the unfertilised plots but only 2 or 3 species on some of the fertilised plots. The continuing effects on species diversity and on soil function of the original treatments, together with later tests of liming and interactions with atmospheric inputs and climate change, has meant that Park Grass has become increasingly important to ecologists and soil scientists. A study published in the journal Nature shows that grassland diversity on the Park Grass experiment recovered once atmospheric nitrogen pollution reduced (Storkey et. al. 2015). The harvesting methods have changed as farming practices have modernised (see More). The plots are cut for hay in mid-June. The first cut for hay ensures seeds are returned each year. The management of the aftermath following the first hay cut varied in the early years, either being grazed by sheep or cut green. Since the 1890s the second crop has been cut green and removed. In some years a third cut has also been taken. Studies have also been made of the botanical composition of the plots both through visual surveys and by looking at the percentage contribution to the hay made by the various species (see More). Herbage yields are recorded each year. Physical samples of crops and soils have been preserved in the Rothamsted Sample Archive. The experiment also includes a small area used for micro-plot experiments. Since January 2020 twelve sub-plots have three soil moisture probes. The experiment has had three main phases (see Design Periods). Park Grass is a Genomic Observatory - a geographic site with a rich history of environmental/ecological data collection and a long-term commitment to future studies. The Park Grass soil metagenome from the untreated control plot 3d is now publicly available (see Related Documents). Park Grass is both an Environmental Change Network (ECN) data site and an Ecological Continuity Trust site (see Related Documents).
Farm operation data?
Sample archive?
Samples available?
 
Data Access Statement
Available to any researcher on request
Data license
CC BY
Data URL
http://www.era.rothamsted.ac.uk/Park
Data policy
Yes (not online)
Organizations
Rothamsted Research
research organisation
Environmental Change Network
research organisation
People
Dr Sarah Perryman
data manager
Rothamsted Research
Computational and Analytical Sciences
Dr Jon Storkey
experiment manager
Rothamsted Research
Biointeractions and Crop Protection
Dr Andrew MacDonald
principal investigator
Rothamsted Research
Sustainable Agricultural Sciences
Dr Margaret Glendining
Rothamsted Research
Computational and Analytical Sciences

Site: Park Grass

Type
research station field
Local code
rpg5
Location
Harpenden
Hertfordshire
United Kingdom
Geographic location
51.803812, -0.372097
© OpenStreetMap contributors
Elevation
133 Metres
Visits permitted?
Yes
Visiting arrangements
By arrangement with Dr Andy Macdonald
History
The experiment was established on c. 2.8 ha of parkland that had been in permanent pasture for at least 100 years.
Soil type
luvisol
Soil description
Silty clay loam over clay-with-flints overlying chalk. The site is normally well drained (Hook series) or moderately well drained (Batcombe series)
Soil properties
VariableDepthValue (range)UnitsRef yearEstimated?Baseline?
sand content 11.6 Percent
silt content 66.3 Percent
clay content 22.1 Percent
soil density0 – 23 Centimetres1.1 gram per cubic centimetre2011
Climatic type
temperate oceanic climate

Design period: First period (1856—1902)

Description
The uniformity of the site was assessed in the five years prior to 1856. Park Grass probably never received the large applications of chalk that were often applied to arable fields in this part of England. The soil (0-23cm) probably had a pH (in water) of about 5.5 when the experiment began. At the beginning of the experiment there were three main groups of fertiliser treatments; no N, N as ammonium salts at 3 rates and N as sodium nitrate at 2 rates, supplying the same amounts of N as the 2 smaller rates of ammonium salts. Within the 3 groups there were comparisons of O and P with and without K Na Mg for some of the rates of N. All fertilisers were applied each year. Another group of treatments also applied each year, tested farmyard manure (FYM), FYM f fertiliser \ chaffed straw * N P K Na Mg and sawdust. The sawdust was applied to some of the plots in two of the groups of fertiliser treatments, no N and ammonium salts. The object was to increase the carbon dioxide content of the soil water by the decomposition of the sawdust (Warren & Johnston, 1963). FYM (farm yard manure) was applied to two plots but was discontinued after eight years because, when applied annually to the surface in large amounts, it had adverse effects on the sward. For 19 years the re-growth was grazed by sheep penned on individual plots but since 1875 a second harvest has been cut and removed immediately. Neither straw nor sawdust had any effect on yield of hay during the first few years, and the sawdust treatment was stopped. Applications of straw, however, were continued for about 40 years, but the added organic matter accumulated as a peaty layer and began to injure the growth of the herbage, and in 1897 this treatment was also stopped. Small amounts of chalk and lime were applied to all plots in the 1880s and 1890s. The Park Grass plan of 1881 shows the chalk application in 1881 to a small part of the Northern end of the plots. In 1883 and 1887 the plots were divided into Western and Eastern halves, with lime applied to the Western half in 1883 and the Eastern half in 1887.
Design description
There were originally 20 plots, some split (see Plan 1865). Plot nomenclature in 1856-1902 is complex. Yields are given for the whole plot, eg plot 3, 1856-1885. From 1881-1902, yields from the small area chalked in 1881 are referred to as 'C' eg 3C, and from the much larger unchalked area as 'UC' eg 3UC. Separate yields were not recorded for the limed and unlimed Western and Eastern halves in 1883 and 1887, but in some years, eg 1887 and 1889, yields are shown for the Western (W) and Eastern (E) parts of the areas chalked (C) and unchalked (UC) in 1881, eg Plots 3EU, 3WC. Plots areas are shown in e-RA, which helps with understanding which parts of the plots are referred to.
Number of plots
20
Number of subplots
4
Crop
CropYears grown
grass
Factors
nitrogen fertilizer exposure
Plot application: Whole plot
N1  (52 kgN/ha)
Chemical form: ammonium sulfate
N2  (104 kgN/ha)
Chemical form: ammonium sulfate
N3  (156 kgN/ha)
Chemical form: ammonium sulfate
N1*  (52 kgN/ha)
Chemical form: ammonium nitrate
N2*  (104 kgN/ha)
Chemical form: ammonium nitrate
natural fertilizer exposure
Plot application: Whole plot
farmyard manure
Application frequency: once every 4 years
fish meal
Application frequency: once every 4 years
To supply 68 kgN/ha.
superphosphate exposure
Plot application: Whole plot
P  (36 kgP/ha)
potassium fertilizer exposure
Plot application: Whole plot
K  (242 kgK/ha)
Chemical form: potassium sulphate
sodium nutrient exposure
Plot application: Whole plot
Na  (17 kgNa/ha)
Chemical form: sodium sulphate
magnesium nutrient exposure
Plot application: Whole plot
Mg  (12 kgMg/ha)
Chemical form: magnesium sulphate
silicon nutrient exposure
Si  (28 kg silicon per hectare)
Chemical form: silicate of soda
Sawdust
Measurements
VariableMaterialUnitsFrequencyScaleComment
yield componentsgrasst/haBiannual1st and 2nd cuts, available from 1856-present.
Partial botanical separation dataNot specified%Selected years. Biannual.Percentage composition of gramineae, leguminosae and other orders. Complete Botanical Separation Data. Selected years 1862-1976.
Complete Botanical Separation DataNot specified%Selected years. Biannual.Percentage composition of species on plot. Selected years 1862-1976.
soil total carbonNot specifiedg/100gvariabledata available for 1876, 1886, (1932, 1959, 1966, 1985, 1991)
total soil nitrogenNot specifiedg/100gvariabledata available for 1876, 1886, (1913, 1932, 1959, 1966, 1985, 1991)
soil pHNot specifiedvariabledata available for 1876, (1923, 1959, 1967, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1984, 1991, 1995, 1998, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2014)
Olsen PNot specifiedmg/kgvariableFrom 1876 -
Total PNot specifiedmg/kgvariable
Soil weightNot specifiedt/havariableFrom 1870 -
Root massNot specifiedt/havariableFrom 1870 -

Design period: Second period (1903—1964)

Description
In 1903, a regular liming scheme was started on the south halves of the plots 1 to 4-2, to 11-2, 13, 16*. The dressing was ground lime and repeated in 1907 and 1915. In 1920 plots 14, 15 and 17 came into this scheme. Also, in 1920 plots 18, 19 and 20** were each divided into three sections, one being left unlimed and the other two limed every four years. Lime was then applied every fourth year from 1924 to southern halves of plots* and plots ** received dressings as in 1920. FYM, applied every four years, was re-introduced on three plots (13, 19 and 20) in 1905. Yields, having originally been estimated by weighing the produce from the whole plot, were since 1960, estimated from strips cut with a forage harvester as yields of dry matter (see More; Harvesting Methods).
Design description
Plots were divided into two in 1903 to test the effects of regular applications of lime.
Crop
CropYears grown
grass
Measurements
VariableMaterialUnitsFrequencyScaleComment
yield componentsNot specifiedt/haBiannual.1st and 2nd cuts, available from 1856-present.
Partial botanical separation dataNot specified%Selected years. Biannual.Percentage composition of gramineae, leguminosae and other orders. Complete Botanical Separation Data. Selected years 1862-1976.
Complete Botanical Separation DataNot specified%Selected years. Biannual.Percentage composition of species on plot. Selected years 1862-1976.
soil total carbonNot specifiedg/110gvariabledata available for 1876, 1886, 1932, 1959, 1966, 1985, 1991
total soil nitrogenNot specifiedg/100gvariabledata available for (1876, 1886), 1913, 1932, 1959, (1966, 1985, 1991)
soil pHNot specifiedvariabledata available for (1876), 1923, 1959, (1967, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1984, 1991, 1995, 1998, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2014)
Olsen PNot specifiedmg/kgvariableFrom 1876 -
Total PNot specifiedmg/kgvariableFrom 1876 -
Soil weightNot specifiedt/havariableFrom 1870 -
Root massNot specifiedt/havariableFrom 1870 -

Design period: Third period (1965—)

Description
In 1965 a new liming scheme was introduced to establish four levels of pH on most of the plots which were divided into four sub-plots, given different amounts of lime to maintain soil pH at 7, 6, 5 and an un-limed sub-plot. Plots previously limed, other than 5, 6, 12, 15, 18, 19, 20, were divided into four sublots, see Design Description. The botanical composition of the plots has been studied by visual surveys and by looking at the percentage contribution of the various species to the hay harvested. Chemical analyses of the crops and soils have been made and physical samples of the crops and soils preserved. Harvesting method had changed in 1960 to forage harvester. Since when, yields of both cuts have been estimated from two or four cuts; at the first cut, by forage harvester, the remainder is cut by mower and made into hay on the plot, to maintain continuity of husbandry, but the second cutting the whole produce is is cut by forage harvester and carried green. The positions of the sample cuts vary year to year.
Design description
In 1965 most plots were divided into four sub-plots, three of which receive chalk to maintain pHs of 7, 6 and 5 (sub-plots a, b and c respectively). The fourth sub-plot (sub-plot d) receives no chalk and the pH of these ranges from 3.5 to 5.7 depending on the fertilizer treatment. From 1965 plots 5/1, 5/2 and 6 were used for microplot experiments. Plots 6a and 6b were re-included in the main experiment in 1972 but the other half of plot 6 (6c and 6d) and plots 5/1 and 5/2 have remained outside the main experiment. Since 1990, nitrogen fertilizer has been withheld from half of all sub-plots formerly receiving 96 kg N ha-1 (plots 9 and 14) as either ammonium sulphate or sodium nitrate to study processes controlling soil acidification, heavy-metal mobilisation and botanical changes. Since 1995, plot 13 has been split into 13/1 and 13/2 and FYM/Fishmeal withheld from plot 13/1. Since 1996 plot 2 has been split into 2/1 and 2/2 with plot 2/1 receiving K as potassium sulphate. In 2013 plot 7 (PKNaMg) was divided into two equal sized plots, 7/1 and 7/2. This was to test whether P fertilizer was still required, because large reserves of P have built up in the soil. No P fertilizer was applied to Plot 7/1, but K, Na and Mg applications continued. Plot 7/2 continued as before (i.e. it received PKNaMg). In addition, N applications began on plot 15; 144kg N/ha as sodium nitrate to provide a comparison with plot 11/1 which receives the same amount of N as ammonium sulphate together with P, K, Na & Mg. From autumn 2016 all plots previously receiving 35 kg P ha-1 as triple superphosphate will receive 17 kg P ha-1 (until further notice) because of the high levels of available soil P from past P inputs. The P application to plot 20 will remain unchanged. Current K, Mg and Na rates on Park Grass remain unchanged. Yields are given for the four sub-plots, eg 3a, 3b, 3c and 3d.
Crop
CropYears grown
grass
Factors
nitrogen fertilizer exposure
applied in spring
N1  (48 kgN/ha)
Chemical form: ammonium sulfate
N2  (96 kgN/ha)
Chemical form: ammonium sulfate
N3  (144 kgN/ha)
Chemical form: ammonium sulfate
N*1  (48 kgN/ha)
Chemical form: ammonium nitrate
N*2  (96 kgN/ha)
Chemical form: ammonium nitrate
N*3  (144 kgN/ha)
Chemical form: ammonium nitrate
(N2)  (96 kgN/ha)
—1989
Chemical form: ammonium sulfate
(N*2)  (96 kgN/ha)
—1989
Chemical form: ammonium nitrate
natural fertilizer exposure
farmyard manure  (35 t/ha)
Application frequency: applied every fourth year
supplies c.240 kg N
pelleted poultry manure
replaced fish meal in 2003; supplies c.65 kg N
superphosphate exposure
P  (17 kgP/ha)
Application frequency: applied in winter
Chemical form: triple superphosphate
potassium fertilizer exposure
K  (17 kgK/ha)
Application frequency: applied in winter
Chemical form: potassium sulphate
sodium nutrient exposure
Na  (15 kgNa/ha)
Application frequency: applied in winter
Chemical form: sodium sulphate
magnesium nutrient exposure
Mg  (10 kgMg/ha)
Application frequency: applied in winter
Chemical form: magnesium sulphate
silicon nutrient exposure
Si  (450 kg)
Application frequency: applied in winter
Chemical form: sodium silicate
liming exposure
ground chalk applied as necessary to maintain soil at pH 7,6 and 5 on sub plots a, b and c
lime
Application frequency: applied every third year since 1995, every 4 years before then
Chemical form: calcium carbonate
sub-plot d does not receive any chalk
Measurements
VariableMaterialUnitsFrequencyScaleComment
yield componentsgrasstwo cuts per yearevery year from 1856 - present
botanical compositionNot specifiedvariablecomplete separations of hay selected years 1862-1976; partial separations of hay 1862-1976; complete species botanical surveys 1991-2000*below
soil total carbonNot specifiedg/100gvariabledata available for 1876, 1886, 1932, 1959, 1966, 1985, 1991
total soil nitrogenNot specifiedg/100gvariabledata available for (1876, 1886, 1913, 1932, 1959) 1966, 1985, 1991
soil pHNot specifiedvariabledata available for (1876, 1923, 1959) 1967, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1979, 1984, 1991, 1995, 1998, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2014
Olsen PNot specifiedmg/kgvariable
Total PNot specifiedmilligram per kilogramvariableFrom 1876
Soil weightNot specifiedt/havariableFrom 1870
Root massNot specifiedt/havariableFrom 1870
Exchangeable cationsNot specifiedmg/kgvariableK, Mg, Ca, Na in air-dried soil. From 1991-2011.
*Botanical Survey DataNot specified% speciesAnnual1991-2000 by Imperial College. Weight of species in replicates > % compostition
Botanical Survey dataNot specifiedNumber of plants2 years1993-1994. Mass effects study by Imperial college, as described by Kunin, 1998
LeafhoppersNot specified2 yearsLeafhoppers (Auchenorhyncha) on 13 plots sampled five time in the summers of 1977 and 1978, as described by Morris, 1992
Soil moistureNot specifiedSince January 2020
Atmospheric chemistryNot specifiedDry deposition of NO2 (Atmospheric Chemistry, AN) measured on Park Grass by, and available through, the Environmental Change Network (ECN)
Precipitation chemistryNot specifiedWet deposition (precipitation chemistry, PC) measured on Park Grass by, and available through, the Environmental Change Network (ECN)

Related publications

  • J. Storkey , A.J. Macdonald , J.R. Bell , I.M. Clark , A.S. Gregory , N.J. Hawkins , P.R. Hirsch , L.C. Todman and Whitmore, A. P. (2016) "The Unique Contribution of Rothamsted to Ecological Research at Large Temporal Scales.", Advances in Ecological Research (eds: A.J. Dumbrell , R.L. Kordas and G. Woodward), Vol 55, Chapter 1, pp. 3-42
  • Storkey, J. , Macdonald, A. J. , Poulton, P. R. , Scott, T. , Kohler, I. H. , Schnyder, H. , Goulding, K. W. T. and Crawley, M. J. (2015) "Grassland biodiversity bounces back from long-term nitrogen addition", Nature , 528, 401-4
  • Silvertown, J. , Poulton, P. R. , Johnston, A., E. , Edwards, G. , Heard, M. and Biss, P. M. (2006) "The Park Grass Experiment 1856-2006: Its contribution to ecology", Journal of Ecology, 94, 801-814
  • Bowley, H. E. , Mathers, A. W. , Young, S. D. , Macdonald, A. J. , Ander, E. L. , Watts, M. J. , Zhao, F. J. , McGrath, S. P. , Crout, N. M. J. and Bailey, E. H. (2017) "Historical trends in iodine and selenium in soil and herbage at the Park Grass Experiment, Rothamsted Research, UK", Soil Use and Management, 33, 252-262
  • Crawley, M. J. , Johnston, A. E. , Silvertown, J. , Dodd, M. , de Mazancourt, C. , Heard, M. S. , Henman, D. F. and Edwards, G. R. (2005) "Determinants of species richness in the Park Grass experiment", American Naturalist, 165, 179-192
  • Kunin, W. E. (1998) "Biodiversity at the edge: A test, of the importance of spatial "mass effects" in the Rothamsted Park Grass experiments", Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 95, 207-212
  • Jenkinson, D. S. , Potts, J. M. , Perry, J. N. , Barnett, V. , Coleman, K. and Johnston, A. E. (1994) "Trends in Herbage Yields over the Last Century on the Rothamsted Long-Term Continuous Hay Experiment", Journal of Agricultural Science, 122, 365-374
  • Morris, M. G. (1992) "Responses of Auchenorhyncha (Homoptera) to Fertilizer and Liming Treatments at Park Grass, Rothamsted", Agriculture Ecosystems & Environment, 41, 263-283
  • Thurston, J. M. , Williams, E. D. and Johnston, A. E. (1976) "Modern developments in an experiment on permanent grassland started in 1856: effects of fertilizers and lime on botanical composition and crop and soil analyses", Annales Agronomiques, 27, 1043-1082
    ***** [In French]
  • Warren, R. G. and Johnston, A. E. (1964) "The Park Grass Experiment", Rothamsted Experimental Station Report for 1963, 240-262
  • Video on Park Grass Experiment presented by Dr Jonathan Storkey
  • Details of the Classical and Long-term Experiments in eRAdoc
  • Environmental Change Network (ECN)
  • The Park Grass Genomic Observatory
  • Ecological Continuity Trust; Park Grass