Impacts of different vegetation in riparian buffer strips on hydrology and water quality

Lead Research Organisation: Rothamsted Research
Department Name: Sustainable Agriculture Sciences-NW

Abstract

This project will investigate the impacts of different vegetation in buffer strips on runoff and pollution loss from agricultural land. Runoff from agricultural land and the pollution it carries continue to cause problems for flooding and water quality. The impacts of flooding arising from runoff from farmed land have been well documented in recent times, including during the wet winter of 2013 - e.g. on the Somerset Levels. Many of our rivers experience water quality problems which have implications for freshwater biology and water treatment costs. Better controls are therefore required in the context of the need for sustainable intensification of our farming. Buffer strips continue to feature in current revisions to agri-environment policy for helping deliver sustainable farming. These revisions affect subsidies for farmers in the form of 'greening' options and funding as part of the new Countryside Stewardship scheme (which commences in January 2016). Despite the continued inclusion of buffers as a 'catch-all' on-farm control option to combat diffuse runoff problems contributing to flooding and, pollution contributing to failure of water quality targets, evidence on the costs and effectiveness of different vegetation types is limited. This project will therefore use an established experimental facility to test deep-rooting grass, deciduous woodland and willow bioenergy crop covers in buffers for reducing runoff and losses of nutrients, sediment and pesticides. The buffers will be tested for reducing runoff and water pollution from grass and maize during a five year study. To expand beyond the experimental site, the new data on the costs and effectiveness of the different vegetation covers will be scaled up to examine potential economic benefits across England and Wales. A clear understanding of costs and benefits is important for industry to engage with research outputs and to encourage on-the-ground delivery of tested measures for farmers. Engagement with industry will be enhanced through demonstration of the plots to stakeholder groups. The project team brings a strong track record of buffer research and well-developed links to stakeholder networks including the grass, woodland and willow industries and those associated with on-going research platforms such as the Defra Demonstration Test Catchment (DTC) and Sustainable Intensification Platform (SIP) programmes, as well as the BBSRC funded North Wyke Farm Platform national capability.

Technical Summary

Buffer strips continue to be included as a 'catch-all' on-farm mitigation option to combat pollutant emissions contributing to failure of water quality targets and diffuse runoff problems contributing to flooding, but, evidence on the cost-effectiveness and cost-benefit of different vegetation types is limited. This project will use replicated plot experiments (n=3 per treatment) to test novel grass (Festulolium loliaceum cv Prior), deciduous woodland and willow bioenergy crops in buffers for reducing runoff and losses of nutrients, sediment and pesticides, using comparison with replicated controls (n=3). Samples of nutrients and sediment will be collected using flow-proportional sampling with autosamplers. Sampling for pesticides will be time-integrated using passive devices routinely deployed by water companies. New empirical data on the efficacy and costs of the buffer treatments for runoff and pollutant reduction at plot scale will be scaled up using a national modelling framework to explore strategic economic benefits for England and Wales. Industrial engagement will be enhanced through demonstration of the plots to stakeholder groups. Scenario modelling will place spatially targeted application of the buffer treatments in the context of the evolution of agri-environment policy under CAP reform 2014-2020. The project team brings a strong track record of buffer research and well-developed links to stakeholder networks including the grass, woodland and willow industries and those associated with the Defra Demonstration Test Catchment and Sustainable Intensification platforms. . The outcome of the work will contribute new scientific knowledge with respect to the nutrient, sediment and pesticide trapping efficacy of these vegetation types, economic assessment of different potential crops in buffers strips, as well as help develop protocols and guidelines that simplify key messages for buffer strip vegetation management options.

Planned Impact

The findings will deliver both socio-economic and academic impacts. Socio-economic impacts will include a contribution to evidence-based policy-making by Defra for water pollution and flooding control at national, regional and local levels. Riparian buffers continue to feature strongly in ongoing revisions to agri-environment policy embodied in current changes to both European Union (EU) Pillar I (Cross Compliance) and Pillar II (stewardship schemes) funding for on-farm interventions for minimising environmental problems.
New empirical evidence on the cost-effectiveness of buffers with different vegetation types will thereby contribute to environmental protection, sustainability and impact reduction (the potentially negative impact of farming on water quality and flooding). The new empirical evidence on the costs and efficacy of the different buffer vegetation types will deliver improved knowledge to the national agri-advice community in the UK, including as examples, farm advisors (e.g. independent or company agronomists for the livestock and arable sectors), Catchment Officers (e.g. in the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme; CSF), NGOs delivering on-farm advice (e.g. the Rivers Trust), levy board staff (AHDB), as well as personnel in the bodies responsible for the protection of natural resources (e.g. Environment Agency, Natural England, Forestry Commission, Chemical Regulations Directorate). The new empirical evidence will provide a basis for updating dictionaries of best management practice for agriculture, including the widely used Defra User Guide for on-farm interventions for pollution control. It will also contribute to the strategic price reviews for OFWAT undertaken by water companies by contributing evidence on the cost-benefit of differently vegetated buffers as soft engineering measures for helping to deliver drinking water quality targets set by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) of England and Wales. The modelled data generated by the upscaling component will contribute to strategic scale economic analyses undertaken by the Environment Agency and Defra in response to reporting commitments for the EU Water Framework Directive.
It is envisaged that the pathway to socio-economic impact will be strongly supported by using the links between the investigators and current ongoing major long-term industry-focussed platforms for science-based agri-environment policy support; the Defra Demonstration Test Catchment (DTC) and Sustainable Intensification Platform (SIP) programmes. Each of these programmes has well-developed local and national stakeholder networks including farmers, environmental bodies, NGOs, water companies, local government and policy teams.
A range of academic impacts will be delivered. These will include the training of the researcher in transferable sampling, monitoring, analytical and reporting skills, contributions to international scientific conferences (e.g. European Geophysical Union - EGU, American Geophysical Union - AGU, Land Use and Water Quality - LUWQ) and the production of high impact scientific journal papers summarising the findings. The PI will be President of an international commission of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences (IAHS) during the project and this will provide an opportunity to disseminate the findings at international conferences supported by IAHS (e.g. International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics - IUGG). The results of the experimental work for the novel grass buffers will provide additional scientific evidence on this treatment in support of the ongoing North Wyke Farm Platform national capability funded by BBSRC.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Data collection is ongoing for this experiment. We now have new data comparing soil physics (bulk density, penetrometer resistance) in the buffers and the upslope grass silage areas they serve. Additionally, we have data comparing the soil chemistry (e.g. TC, TN) in the buffers and the upslope areas they serve.

Storm runoff sampling has continued over the past year which has included the current wet autumn/winter (one of the wettest on record), enabling us to compare mean flow and export of TN and TP from the upslope areas served by the different buffer treatments.

New data collection has also been continued for gaseous emissions across the replicated plots and these new data are currently being processed by the project team and the first scientific publication on this work has been drafted.

For the national scale modelling framework we have continued assembling data on the current uptake of grass buffer options under agri-environment at national scale in England and have now examined the spatial mismatch between the current implementation of riparian buffers and recordings of water quality failures (e.g. for metaldehyde) or where risk for water quality from excess nutrient and sediment loss is high. The scaling out framework has the capacity to offer two options; strict scaling out using the exact environmental setting (soil type, climate, slope) of the experimental facility at Rothamsted Research, North Wyke, or a more relaxed scaling out extrapolating the efficacy of buffers with different vegetation treatments nationally regardless of soil type, climate and slope.
Exploitation Route We regularly share the updated data and outputs using slides to a number of stakeholders including AHDB, local farm advisors and farmers and the Defra ELM trials in both the North Devon Biosphere and the Exe/Clun.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment

 
Description The general advice on the establishment of riparian buffers provided by the project team has been taken up be various agri-advisors delivering on-farm advice in the SW of England region. Here, there has been good engagement with a number of agri-industry organisations including AHDB who have interacted with the PI regularly to get updates on progress and preliminary findings. The work in this experiment is also feeding into a new project on Natural Flood Management in the River Otter catchment, Devon, funded by the Environment Agency and managed by the consultancy WOOD. For both scientists and agri-industry, the experimental data have been presented at the annual SARIC dissemination events. The upscaling framework has been presented to Defra policy teams to illustrate how experiments can be scaled out from experimental sites using modelling grounded on real commercial farm data.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Policy & public services

 
Description Defra Expert Working Group on Small Waterbodies
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description National expert reviewer for new Evironment Land Management (ELM) schemes
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
 
Description National review on engineered buffer strip options
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Membership of a guideline committee
 
Description contribution to the new farming rules for water (Pillar I)
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a national consultation
 
Description Exe and Clun ELM trial
Amount £8,640 (GBP)
Organisation Department For Environment, Food And Rural Affairs (DEFRA) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2019 
End 09/2021
 
Description Otter Land Use and Water Resources
Amount £6,900 (GBP)
Organisation Environment Agency 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2021 
End 03/2023
 
Description STARS DTP
Amount £49,199 (GBP)
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 03/2020
 
Title National farm to landscape modelling framework 
Description A national framework for extrapolating the experimental results from the buffer strip trial. The framework includes different farm types (e.g. lowland grazing livestock, intensive cereal) by soil type and rainfall category and critically, models current uptake (business-as-usual) of on-farm runoff and diffuse pollution control measures (e.g. standard 6 m grass buffer strips) so that the projected relative technically feasible impacts of any new scenarios for buffer uptake on farms are more robust. 
Type Of Material Computer model/algorithm 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The modelling framework permits us with a means of extrapolating experimental results to engage with a wider audience including farmers in different parts of the country to which the experimental results apply. 
 
Title SEPARATE (Sector Pollutant Apportionment for the Aquatic Environment) V. 2 
Description SEPARATE provides landscape scale apportionment of the agricultural and non-agricultural contributions of sediment and nutrients (N and P) delivered to waterbodies at national scale in England and Wales. Work as part of Soil to nutrition has updated the data layers to produce version 2. The key updates include updating estimates of agricultural externalities and non-agricultural externalities from point source discharges and eroding river channel banks. 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2019 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Capacity to estimate one critical component of the spatial mismatch problem for sustainable intensification of farming as you scale from farm scale to landscape scale. This provides a basis for more reliable predictions of the potential impacts of new intervention scenarios across the scales. 
 
Description Co-working with the Landscape Pioneer, North Devon Biosphere 
Organisation Natural England
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Professor Adie Collins has been providing expert review of evolving plans for the new Environment Land Management (ELM) scheme to be piloted the Landscape Pioneer from April 2019. He has attended meetings in Exeter and on conference calls as part of this collaboration. He is currently providing advice on the scope for farm typologies to inform the monitoring of the new ELM.
Collaborator Contribution Natural England have overall responsibility for co-designing the new ELM for trial in the Landscape Pioneer, working with multiple partners to ensure a focus on public good.
Impact The key output to date is a draft description of the interventions likely to be tested in the new ELM.
Start Year 2018
 
Description Environmental Land Management (ELM) trial: River Exe catchment 
Organisation The Soil Association
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Learned Society 
PI Contribution We are providing spatial datasets for the focus areas
Collaborator Contribution The Soil Association is leading this ELM trial to feed into the government 25 YEP
Impact Evidence on the public goods delivered by farmers in the River Exe catchment in SW England
Start Year 2019
 
Description Envision PhD Studentship 
Organisation Lancaster University
Department Lancaster Environment Centre
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Co-supervison of a PhD student
Collaborator Contribution Co-supervison of a PhD student
Impact None yet
Start Year 2017
 
Description STARS DTP studentship 
Organisation Lancaster University
Department Division of Biomedical and Life Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Co-supervision of the PhD studentship
Collaborator Contribution Co-supervision of the PhD studentship
Impact Multi-disciplinary collaboration ; hydrology, biology, ecology, water quality
Start Year 2016
 
Description Teagasc Walsh Fellowship PhD 
Organisation Teagasc
Country Ireland 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution Professor Adie Collins is co-supervising this Teagasc Walsh Fellowship PhD project with Professor Phil Jordan at Ulster and Dr Per-Erik-Mellander at Teagasc. Part of the studentship work will be using the replicated buffer experiment to test the conservativeness of sterol biomarkers for tracing cattle slurry losses from agricultural land to water. The slurry will be added in conjunction with us sowing maize as a high risk crop in May 2019 to test the buffer treatments for associated impacts on runoff and water quality. Amber Manley, the PhD student, is spending her first two years at Rothamsted Research before moving to Ulster for her final two years.
Collaborator Contribution The co=supervisors from Ulster University and Teagasc are involved in all stages of the planning of the experiment work for this PhD project.
Impact Paper submitted to Water Research - first conservation test of the sterol biomarkers being used for tracing cattle slurry.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Walsh Fellowship PhD studentship 
Organisation Teagasc
Department Teagasc Food Research Centre
Country Ireland 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Professor Adie Collins won a Walsh Fellowship PhD studentship funded by Teagasc. The PhD is co-supervised by Teagasc, Rothamsted Research and the University of Ulster (the awarding university). Professor Adie Collins is co-supervising the student (Amber Manley) and thereby contributing to all aspects of the studentship. To date, the student has focussed on completing her MRes at Ulster university (passing with Distinction) and on completing her first research paper for submission to am international journal reporting the results of a benchtop experiment testing the conservativeness of sterol biomarkers for confirming incidental losses of cattle slurry from agricultural land.
Collaborator Contribution Teagasc and the University of Ulster are co-supervising the studentship and also providing facilities for the work in future years (years 3 and 4).
Impact The first scientific paper has been completed and is nearing completion for submission to an international journal. The student has presented an outline of her thesis plan to Teagasc, Ireland.
Start Year 2017
 
Description Agri-advisor group visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Visit to the buffer experimental facility by the Devon Wildlife Trust Upstream Thinking Initiative agri-advisors to discuss the work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Agri-advisor group visit 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Visit to the buffer experimental facility by the Cornwall Upstream Thinking Initiative agri-advisors to discuss the work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description BBSRC/NERC SARIC 4rd dissemination event (Manchester, 10-11th October 2018) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Prof Adrian Collins & Dr Robert Dunn presented a talk entitled 'Impacts of different vegetation in riparian buffer strips on hydrology and water quality' as an update on the progress of the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description BBSRC/NERC SARIC 5th dissemination event (Sheffield, 1st-2nd October 2019) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Prof Adrian Collins & Dr Robert Dunn presented a talk entitled 'Impacts of different vegetation in riparian buffer strips on hydrology and water quality' as an update on the progress & findings of the project
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description BSRC/NERC SARIC 3rd dissemination event (Oxford, November 2017) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Prof Adrian Collins presented talk entitled 'Impacts of different vegetation in riparian buffer strips on hydrology and water quality'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Chemcatcher deployment meeting - Ian Townsend (South West Water) and Prof Mills (Portsmouth University) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Visit to the plot-scale experimental site and discussion on the use of Chemcatcher for monitoring pesticide and herbicides in runoff water from the plots on the 20th Jan 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description China - Sino-German P workshop, 11th-17th November, China Agricultural University, Beijing, China 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact This was a workshop marking the initiation of a Sino-German Programme of work between China Agricultural University and Hohenheim University, Germany. I was invited to give a keynote address on the work on phosphorus related topics in which I am involved.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Conference presentation (York) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Project presentation at the 10th meeting on Environmental Risk Assessment Research at the University of York. This meeting was specifically focussed on the pesticide aspects of the buffer experiment.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Dartmoor Hill Farm Project - 30th Jan 2018 - David Atwell (Project Coordinator) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Visit by Dartmoor Hill Farm Project Coordinator - David Atwell
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Dartmoor National Park (Chris Giles - Head of Conservation), Dartmoor Hill Farm Project (David Atwell - Project Coordinator 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Visit to the plot-scale experimental site as part of a general visit to see North Wyke research projects/facilities
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Dartmoor National Park - 30th Jan 2018 - Chris Giles (Head of Conservation) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Visit by Chris Giles (Head of Conservation - Dartmoor National Park) to the field site
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description ERDF Impact Lab Bootcamp, Exeter Science Park, 6th November 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact This was a workshop focused around the 'Water Resilience Challenge', one of the key themes of the Impact Lab. The main focus of the event to bring everyone together to hothouse ideas, form new collaborations, gain new insights and refine solutions to the defined challenges. Industry partners were teamed up with appropriate acdemics so that they could tackle individual challenges together.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL https://www.impactlab.org.uk/events/view/take-on-the-challenge-water-resilience
 
Description Environment Canada - 26th Jun 2018 - Dr Bommanna Krishnappan + others 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Visit by Dr Bommanna Krishnappan (Environment Canada) to the field site
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Farmer stakeholder groups 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Visit to the buffer experiment by AHDB SW Beef and Sheep Grazing Group plus the Tamar Valley Organics to discuss the aims and likely outputs from the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Forest Research 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Visit to the plot-scale experimental site to see the impact of using trees in buffers zones - 17th Nov 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description NFU July 12th 2018 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Visit by NFU to field site
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Visit by Country Land and Business Association members 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Dr Jane Hawkins gave a presentation of the project as a part of talk on the research activities at Rothamsted Research, North Wyke.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Visit by Princes Countryside Resilience Program 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact Dr Jane Hawkins presented the project as a part of talk on the wider research activities at Rothamsted Research, North Wyke
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Visiting group from Dartmoor Farmers Association 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact A group of farmers from the Dartmoor Farmers Association attended an agri-environment workshop based at North Wyke, and as part of the afternoon tours of the research facilities visited the research experimental site to look at the planted buffer strips.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Welsh Water - Phillippa Pearson, Tara Froggatt, Matthew Kearon, Sara Jones 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A visit by Welsh Water on 15th Feb to get our advice on the use of buffer zones as a pollution mitigation method in Welsh catchments. The visit was a result of discussion with Phillippa Pearson following our presentation at the SARIC dissemination event Dec 2016.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017