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Keywords:

  • land management change;
  • overland flow;
  • infiltration rates;
  • climatic variability;
  • sheep grazing;
  • broadleaf trees

Abstract

To develop an evidence base to help predict the impacts of land management change on flood generation, four experimental sites were established on improved grassland used for sheep grazing at the Pontbren catchment in upland Wales, UK. At each site, three plots were established where surface runoff was measured, supplemented by measurements of soil infiltration rates and soil and vegetation physical properties. Following baseline monitoring, treatments were applied to two of the plots: exclusion of sheep (ungrazed) and exclusion of sheep and planting with native broadleaf tree species (tree planted), with the third plot acting as a control (grazed pasture). Due to a particularly dry summer that occurred pre-treatment, the soil hydrological responses were initially impacted by the effects of the climate on soil structure. Nevertheless, treatments did have a clear influence on soil hydrological response. On average, post-treatment runoff volumes were reduced by 48% and 78% in ungrazed and tree-planted plots relative to the control, although all results varied greatly over the sites. Five years following treatment application, near-surface soil bulk density was reduced and median soil infiltration rates were 67 times greater in plots planted with trees compared to grazed pasture. The results illustrate the potential use of upland land management for ameliorating local-scale flood generation but emphasise the need for long-term monitoring to more clearly separate the effects of land management from those of climatic variability. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.