Defra - Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Science Search

Science and Research Projects

Return to Science Search homepage   Return to Project List

Design of a monitoring scheme to assess the spatial extent and severity of soil erosion - SP1303

Soil erosion in England and Wales was not considered to be an environmental problem until the 1970s. Since then, a significant amount of research has been conducted at a wide range of locations in England and Wales to quantify erosion or to establish the risk of erosion occurring in the future. Though on a global scale, many of these studies underline the fact that soil erosion rates may not be high, the consensus in the literature is that soil erosion in England and Wales often occurs at an acclerated rate and can be detrimental both to the quality of the soil (on-site impacts) and the quality of receiving surface waters (off-site impacts).

Numerous different techniques have been used to assess soil erosion in England and Wales. These include: direct measurements of erosion features through surveying, remote sensing and aerial photography of the extent of erosion, monitoring of erosion 'plots' and catchments to observe erosion, tracing soil erosion using geochemical and radionuclide analysis and modelling of erosion using a suite of different software. Thus, the evidence base for erosion is extensive, but is made up of many lines of evidence, which are not always in agreement. Indeed, different techniques to understand erosion are appropriate in different environments. The large-scale erosion of peaty uplands, for example, has been studied via repeat ground surveys and aerial photography, whereas the erosion from intensively-managed grasslands has best been captured via detailed monitoring studies on small catchment areas. What is now required is a synthesis of all the information describing soil erosion in England and Wales and a framework that will allow us to improve our understanding of erosion both in terms of future predictions but also in terms of understanding whether mitigation efforts have been successful.

This project proposes to address two main objectives to improve understanding of soil erosion in England and Wales and to develop a way forward to monitor soil erosion. Objective one will be to deliver an in-depth literature review, written by world-leading experts in the field of soil erosion, who have already contributed dozens of research papers describing soil erosion in England and Wales to the research literature. This work wil lprovide a fundamental basis upon which we will build a consensus as to how we should monitor soil erosion in the future.

Objective two will bring together a wide spectrum of erosion experts, including scientists as well as stakeholders to refine our understanding of previous erosion research and suggest a feasible approach that will allow us to conduct a cost-effective, national-scale monitoring programme of erosion in the future.
There are two main objectives to the project:

1 To review all available literature on soil erosion monitoring and modelling in England and Wales, incorporating a summary of key findings from international soil erosion research and;
2 To design a scientifically robust yet cost-effective monitoring framework for soil erosion in England and Wales.

Thus, the project will propose a methodology to provide both accurate and reliable data which are fit for purpose at the correct spatial support and extent, whilst assessing the costs to Defra of delivering such information.

Objective 1. Review all available literature on soil erosion monitoring and modelling in England and Wales incorporating a summary of key findings from international soil erosion research (Months 0-3)

We aim to focus on specific areas of scientific research in seven parallel work packages (WPs):
WP 1.1 - Uplands
WP 1.2 - Arable lands
WP 1.3 - Lowland grasslands
WP 1.4 - Mechanical erosion
WP 1.5 - Channel-bank and floodplain erosion
WP 1.6 - National erosion assessments
WP 1.7 - Soil erosion modelling

Within each of these areas we will complete a detailed literature review which synthesises:
(a) Monitoring data, providing a quantitative assessment of erosion rates by land use, soil type, pathway and spatial extent of erosion
(b) Evidence for effects of erosion on soil properties (especially soil carbon storage)
(c) Modelling work, describing erosion predictions (with uncertainty where appropriate)
(d) Data requirements and future research needs to improve understanding
(e) Costs (financial and societal) and benefits (useability and applicability/relevance) of each approach

Each work package will write a detailed report to summarise findings and present these results at a project workshop at the end of Month 3.

Objective 2. Design a scientifically robust yet cost-effective monitoring framework for soil erosion in England and Wales (Months 4-6)

We understand that monitoring erosion in England and Wales is a complex problem due to the wide range of combinations of soil type, land use/management and topography as well as the transient and spatial nature of many erosion processes. Our main aim to address this objective, therefore, is to reach a consensus amongst the erosion community (including scientists, agency staff, policy staff and land users) as to which erosion monitoring and modelling techniques are most scale-appropriate for each erosion pathway under these different combinations. Here we define ‘appropriate’ as both reliable and accurate (within reason and considering uncertainty), as well as affordable and fit-for-purpose (i.e. a proven technique).

WP 2.1 - A two-day ‘erosion community’ workshop (Start of Month 4)

To inform this consensus, the outputs from Objective 1 – namely the seven reports and their accompanying presentations will be shared at a two-day workshop with a broad audience of erosion specialists and stakeholders. The aim of this workshop is to:
- Stimulate debate about each area of knowledge
- Refine the knowledge to ensure that all understanding has been captured
- Propose the outline of a framework to monitor erosion in the future
- Generate widespread ‘buy-in’ and consensus about how the erosion community will provide a national erosion monitoring capability
- Identify all potential users of the outputs from a national erosion monitoring programme
- Agree the purpose of a national erosion monitoring programme for all stakeholders
- Make initial estimates of the cost of establishing a monitoring programme.

WP 2.2 – Proposing a way forward (Months 4-6)

The core project team will then collate output from the workshop (months 4-6) to propose a detailed framework to monitor erosion in England and Wales. We anticipate that at least one further one day meeting will be required for the project team to finalise the proposed monitoring scheme, this will be held towards the end of the project (month 5).

The framework, alongside the detailed literature reviews will be presented as a final report to Defra at the end of month 6.

WP 3 – Project Management

The main objective here will be smooth running of the project and direct communication within the core team, with the erosion community and directly to Defra. Brazier will lead this work package, with input from all of the project team.

Project Documents
• FRP - Final Report : SP1303 Final Report   (775k)
• ANX - Annex : SP1303 Appendix 1   (2178k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2010

To: 2011

Cost: £49,656
Contractor / Funded Organisations
School of Geography, University of Exeter
Environmental Protection