Wind tunnel simulations of the effect of non-erodible roughness elements on sediment transport show that the flux ratio q/qs, shear velocity U*, and roughness density λ are co-dependent variables. Initially, the sediment flux is enhanced by kinetic energy retention in relatively elastic collisions that occur at the roughness element surfaces, but at the same time, the rising surface coverage of the immobile elements reduces the probability of grain ejection. A zone of strong shearing stress develops within 0·03 to 0·04 m of the rough bed because of a relative straightening of velocity profiles which are normally convex with saltation drag. This positive influence on fluid entrainment is opposed by declining shear stress partitioned to the sand bed. Similarly, because the free stream velocity Uf is fixed while U* increases, velocity at height z and particle momentum gain from the airstream decline, leading eventually to lower numbers of particles ejected on average at each impact. When the ratio of the element basal area to frontal area σ is approximately equal to 3·5, secondary flow effects appear to become significant, so that the dimensionless aerodynamic roughness parameter Z0/h and shear stress on the exposed sand bed Ts decrease. It is at this point that grain supply to the airstream and saltation drag appear to be significantly reduced, thereby intensifying the reduction in U*. The zone of strong fluid shear near the bed dissipates.