Testing the efficacy of mitigation measures for reducing fine sediment and associated pollutant delivery to and through rivers in agricultural catchments of England

  • Matilda Biddulph

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Agricultural intensification has contributed to the degradation of freshwaters in the UK, through enhanced delivery of fine sediment and associated contaminants, leading to sedimentation and eutrophication. European legislation (Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC) and subsequent UK government initiatives such as Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) and Demonstration Test Catchments (DTC), aim to improve the quality of freshwaters. The DTC programme aims to find cost-effective ways to reduce agricultural diffuse water pollution. This study aimed to monitor rivers in the Hampshire Avon DTC with existing and planned mitigation measures, to measure the effectiveness of the mitigation measures, and to develop an experimental design for wider application for pollution mitigation. The methods used and tested in this study were a combination of affordable, replicable and sustainable methods (in-stream sediment collection and water quality monitoring), more complicated, expensive, analytical laboratory methods (particle size, loss-on-ignition, geochemistry, mineral magnetism, environmental radionuclides), and sediment source fingerprinting. The mitigation measures were: improvement to farm infrastructure, a wooded and a grassed riparian buffer, and a constructed wetland and in-stream pond treatment train. The improved farm infrastructure (resurfacing of a farm track, installation of a retention pond, improvements to a drainage ditch) effectively reduced inputs of sediment and associated contaminants to the river, however, this had little positive impact on the river due to greater importance of inputs from other sources. The riparian buffers were reducing fine sediment and associated contaminant inputs laterally and from upstream, however, the effectiveness of the riparian buffers was undermined by a lack of riparian buffers upstream and by sub-surface field drains. Combined analysis of the river from the farm infrastructure in the headwaters (farm scale) to the wooded riparian buffer downstream (sub-catchment scale) showed a change in the dominant source of sediment. This highlighted that an experimental design would require monitoring at varying spatial scales, as individual farm scale mitigation measures may have little impact on an entire sub-catchment due to the importance of other sources from a larger drainage area. The constructed wetland and instream pond were not effective at reducing longitudinal delivery of fine sediment and associated contaminants due to issues related to maintenance and design, emphasising the importance of appropriate targeting, design, and maintenance of mitigation measures. The results from this study showed that the methods used would be suitable as part of an experimental design for wider application. Although complex and expensive, sediment source fingerprinting is essential for determining appropriate and cost-effective mitigation at farm and sub-catchment scales. Monitoring of the sediment and water quality using the affordable, replicable and sustainable methods could be managed by farmers and landowners across a dense spatial area, at a high temporal frequency, to ensure sustainable effectiveness of mitigation. There is a need for more co-working between policy makers and scientists to ensure appropriate funding and timescales for research are provided, and with farmers and landowners to improve understanding and vested interest in the contribution of agriculture to the degradation of water quality.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Northampton
SupervisorN Holmes (Supervisor), A Collins (Supervisor) & Ian Foster (Supervisor)

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