This paper raises fundamental questions about the sole use of paleolimnological techniques to identify sediment sources and develop catchment management plans. The concept of an integrated lake: catchment framework was established 30 years ago, yet paleolimnologists occasionally fail to appreciate the dynamics of the contributing catchment. This is especially critical when the predominant source of sediment accumulating in a lake is allochthonous. In this paper we argue that a detailed appraisal of catchment sources and investigation of historical documentary evidence is needed to identify and evaluate the relative significance of sediment sources. We used such an approach at Aqualate Mere, Shropshire, UK. Mineral magnetic and radionculide signatures of potential catchment sources and accumulating lake sediments were compared in an attempt to match the sources to sediments deposited in the Mere. Dated lake sediments indicate there has been an increase in sedimentation rate and the relative amount of minerogenic material delivered to the Mere over the last 200 years. In contrast to a previous study at the same site, there is no evidence to attribute this increase to an overspill from a nearby canal. Other catchment disturbances include landscaping in parkland surrounding the Mere in the early nineteenth century and drainage systems installed to improve catchment agriculture over the last ca. 150 years. Both activities may explain the change in sedimentation rates and types, independent of the hypothesized canal origin. Although our results exclude the canal as a major sediment source, identifying the contribution of other potential catchment sources remains problematic. 137Cs inventories for the lake are similar to those recorded at a local reference site, suggesting little influx of 137Cs-bearing topsoil, yet 137Cs activities remain high in the upper 20–30 cm of the lake sediment profile, indicating a topsoil origin. Combined radionuclide and mineral magnetic signatures proved to be relatively poor discriminators of potential sources, and the high atmospheric pollution load from the West Midland conurbation has probably altered recent lake sediment signatures. Although further research is required to identify the origins of recent (last ca. 200 years) minerogenic sediment inputs to the Mere, we suggest that the combined lake: catchment approach offers a more rigorous method for understanding the impact of catchment disturbance than analysis of the paleolimnological record alone.
- Palaeoenvironmental reconstruction Environmental magnetism Landscape disturbance Catchment source tracing Mere