Small-scale landscape elements, such as ditch banks, play an important role in preserving plant species richness in agricultural landscapes. In this study, we investigate whether the seed bank might be useful for restoring the above-ground plant species richness. We studied the vegetation and seed bank composition at six species-rich and six species-poor ditch banks, where agri-environment schemes are running to maintain and enhance ditch bank plant diversity. We show that the number of species in the seed bank was low, regardless of the number of species in the established vegetation. Moreover, the seed bank was always dissimilar to the established vegetation. Target species for nature conservation were occasionally present in the seed bank at both species-poor and species-rich sites, but rarely so if the species was absent from the established vegetation. We conclude that the potential use of the seed bank for restoration of ditch banks is minimal. At present, plant species richness seems to be largely controlled by germination opportunities; high biomass and competition appear to hamper germination at species-poor sites. We recommend continued nutrient reduction at such sites. Soil disturbance measures and deliberate sowing should also be considered.
Nomenclature: van der Meijden (1996).