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Effect of soil structure and field drainage on water quality and flood risks

Good soil structure and functioning field drainage systems are key to achieving good water quality and minimising flood risk.  They are also vital for agricultural productivity and play a key role in the greenhouse gas balance of many soil systems. This project, led by the  University of Aberdeen in collaboration with the James Hutton Institute,  steered by SEPA, SNH and Scottish Water will assess the extent of drainage problems in agricultural fields, the potential underlying causes including soil structural degradation, and the potential implications to flood risk and water quality.





Project Objectives

  • Carry out a survey within 4 pilot catchments that experience both water quality and flooding issues, to assess the conditions of soils and field drainage under different farming systems and to determine the possible contribution of soils and field drainage and land management to runoff, soil erosion and flooding risk.
  • Quantify and evaluate the effects of farm practices on soil, particularly compaction, structural degradation and erosion, and evaluate the possible impact on watercourse “silting” and flooding risks.
  • Identify the most frequently damaged soils and evaluate the management reasons and other factors for this, and also provide recommendations on mitigation.
  • Carry out detailed field investigations on selected sites in high risk areas to identify the extent of soil structural degradation in high risk catchments and whether this is resulting in enhanced surface-water runoff within catchments.
  • Carry out an estimate of field drainage systems in the four pilot catchments using telephone surveys and other sources of information (e.g. extent, state and efficacy of plastic or old clay pipes and spacing, use of gravel fill and moling).  Assess how much new drainage or remedial drainage is carried out every year.
  • Provide training to SEPA catchment coordinators when carrying out the surveys described above, and present results of this project to SEPA and other organisations at a workshop, including how to assess soil structure and drainage issues.
  • Carry out a pilot scale initial assessment on the use of remote sensing work using land cover patterns, soil moisture and integrating topography to develop an approach for monitoring soil condition and drainage with remote sensing.