Erosion and natural revegetation associated with surface land drains in upland peatlands



Open cut drains are the most frequently used drainage technique in peatlands and are common throughout the world. Land drains increase the drainage density and promote enhanced coupling of hillslope sediment sources with streams. They may be major sources of fine sediment to peatland stream systems but data on drain sediment production in peatlands are rare. Many drains are now being dammed by humans, yet some revegetate naturally. This paper presents a survey of the erosion and natural revegetation of peat drains related to variables such as slope, drainage area and shading. The paper also provides measured comparison of sediment flux from open drains, drains that have been blocked by peat dams, undisturbed subcatchments, and the catchment outlet. Natural infilling of drains was often found to occur on gentle slopes <4°. Drains on slopes <2° were rarely eroded, while drains on slopes >4° were rarely infilled. Nick-point retreat at the confluence of drains was often observed. Revegetation of drains was uncommon where drains have been cut or incised into the underlying mineral substrate. Where the drain floor was peat-based, revegetation was much more common. Revegetation of drain floors was affected by overhanging vegetation, which provided shading. Drain floors with less than 60% shading tended to have a greater vegetation cover than drains with 60–90% shading. However, drains that were almost totally shaded (>90%) had the greatest floor vegetation. The intact drains were found to be major sources of suspended sediment within the survey catchments, with 18·3% of the sediment originating from the unblocked drains which drained 7·3% of the area. The winter quarter of the year was more important than other seasons for producing suspended sediment, even though precipitation totals were not greatest during this period. Drains which had been dammed at intervals along their length using peat blocks had very low sediment yields. Even poorly dammed drains, where water could still flow along the full course of the drain, had 54 times less suspended sediment production than unblocked drains. Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.