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The effects of burning and sheep-grazing on water table depth and soil water quality in a upland peat.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

Published

Journal publication date10/06/2007
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Journal number1-2
Volume339
Number of pages14
Pages1-14
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

Rotational burning of heather to improve grazing and grouse breeding is a common management practice for upland catchments in the UK. However, the effects of such practices on hydrology and water quality are not well understood because the timescale of burning rotation is typically between 7 and 20 years thus requiring long-term experiments in order to resolve the effects. Furthermore, land management, such as changes in burning or grazing practices, has been proposed as a possible strategy for the remediation of the widespread increases in dissolved organic carbon (DOC) observed across the northern hemisphere. This study is based on a long-term experiment on the effect of different rotational burning cycles and grazing intensities on upland vegetation and aims to understand the effects of these management strategies on hydrology and water quality. The main outcomes are: (i) The depth to water table in the soil showed significant differences between different burning rotations and grazing intensities. Depth to water table was greatest on plots where burning did not occur or for longer burning cycles where livestock had been excluded. (ii) The pH and conductivity of sampled soil water showed no significant difference between grazing treatments, with the presence of burning being the most important factor (frequency of the burning cycle was not important). (iii) The DOC content showed no significant difference between grazing treatments but showed a significant decrease with the presence of burning, though no direct relationship with the depth to water table could be found. (iv) Burn management explains only a small proportion of the variance in the composition of the DOC, rather the variation is dominated by the differences between days of sampling and seasonal variation. Therefore, this study suggests that land management controls hydrology and water quality through controlling the development of vegetation.