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Keeping agricultural soil out of rivers: evidence of sediment and nutrient accumulation within field wetlands in the UK

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date15/03/2014
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Volume135
Number of pages19
Pages54-62
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Intensification of agriculture has resulted in increased soil degradation and erosion, with associated pollution of surface waters. Small field wetlands, constructed along runoff pathways, offer one option for slowing down and storing runoff in order to allow more time for sedimentation and for nutrients to be taken up by plants or micro-organisms. This paper describes research to provide quantitative evidence for the effectiveness of small field wetlands in the UK landscape. Ten wetlands were built on four farms in Cumbria and Leicestershire, UK. Annual surveys of sediment and nutrient accumulation in 2010, 2011 and 2012 indicated that most sediment was trapped at a sandy site (70 tonnes over 3 years), compared to a silty site (40 tonnes over 3 years) and a clay site (2 tonnes over 3 years). The timing of rainfall was more important than total annual rainfall for sediment accumulation, with most sediment transported in a few intense rainfall events, especially when these coincided with bare soil or poor crop cover. Nutrient concentration within sediments was inversely related to median particle size, but the total mass of nutrients trapped was dependent on the total mass of sediment trapped. Ratios of nutrient elements in the wetland sediments were consistent between sites, despite different catchment characteristics across the individual wetlands. The nutrient value of sediment collected from the wetlands was similar to that of soil in the surrounding fields; dredged sediment was considered to have value as soil replacement but not as fertiliser. Overall, small field wetlands can make a valuable contribution to keeping soil out of rivers.