Impacts of farm-scale ecosystem management on water quality in intensively managed grasslands

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Geography


The proposed work will assess whether the farm-scale management of soil and water resources can deliver tangible improvements to ecosystem quality. The study will be based in the intensively-managed grasslands of south west England, at the North Wyke Research Institute, part of Rothamstead Research. The research will take advantage of a unique, Farm Platform experiment, which will begin just prior to the start of the project. Three sites within the Farm Platform will be menaged to provide different scenarios along a gradient of productivity, which will represent different approaches to farm-scale, ecosystem management. Data will be collected (1) to characterise the status of soils and vegetation under each scenario, (2) to monitor the water quality responses of first-order ditches and tributaries from each scenario and (3) to assess (via continued monitoring) whether varying management techniques have influenced water quality and if so, by how much. A strong emphasis will be placed on the need to assess change in water quality within a quantitative, yet uncertain framework and appropriate statistical techniques will be employed (geostatistics, analysis of (co)variance) to do this. The project will therefore deliver an understanding of the immediate effects of farm-scale management upon water quality, providing evidence that will be directly relevant to the 2015 goals of the Water Framework Directive (WFD). The PhD student will be trained in a wide variety of field and analytical techniques, within one of the UK's leading Geography Department's and the leading UK institute in grassland environmental science. The student will work in a vibrant, collaborative environment, with a strong emphasis on team-working (across the Farm Platform) to achieve individual goals. Supervison and training will be tailored to the individual needs of the student, with an emphasis on one-to-one training particularly in the UKAS accreditted laboratories, where internationally-transferrable analytical skills will be a major element of the students' training. The project thus represents a strong opportunity to conduct a high quality research program that is both relevant to the UK Government in meeting the objectives of the WFD and delivers internationally-relevant science, at a time when robust understanding of the link between land management and water quality is desperately needed.


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