Quantifying nutrient and sediment erosion at riverbank cattle access points using fine-scale geo-spatial data

Unrestricted cattle access to the riparian zone can exacerbate riverbank erosion in grazed grassland catchments. Knowledge gaps include the magnitude of erosion and other environmental pressures at cattle access points. This study aimed to address this by using two high resolution geo-spatial methods; 1) aerial photogrammetry and 2) terrestrial laser scanning to measure cumulative, seasonal, and annual erosion rates at nine unmitigated cattle access points in Northern Ireland. Total, fine sediment and total phosphorus exports were determined through bulk density and deep soil core sampling campaigns of exposed bank faces. Accumulated erosion was estimated using method 1) at 1.0 – 49.5 t and 0.51 – 16.64 kg for total sediment and total phosphorus, respectively. Using method 2) median annual export coefficients of 0.19 – 0.21 t m−1 and 0.065 – 0.087 kg m−1 (normalised to streambank length) were determined for total sediment and total phosphorus transfers respectively and these mostly occurred during the grazing season (median 84% for both sediment and total phosphorus). In terms of livestock pressures, these annual exports equate to 0.34 – 0.40 t LU-1 yr−1 and 0.103 – 0.111 kg LU-1 yr−1 for total sediment and total phosphorus, respectively (1.19–1.89 LU ha−1). The conventional measure of protective fencing is likely to prevent such transfers to rivers. Scaling a nationwide agri-environment scheme over six years which installed 2,493 km of riparian fencing (and assuming from this study that 1.9 % of all riparian field boundaries had cattle access impact), this measure potentially saved 9,047–9,999 t yr−1 and 3,095 – 4,143 kg yr−1 of total sediment and total phosphorus, respectively, from entering water courses.
Publication history: Accepted - 8 October 2023; Published - 14 October 2023.
Cattle access point, Photogrammetry, Terrestrial laser scanning, Total phosphorus, Sediment, Erosion
Scott, A., Cassidy, R., Arnscheidt, J., Rogers, D. and Jordan, P. (2023) ‘Quantifying nutrient and sediment erosion at riverbank cattle access points using fine-scale geo-spatial data’, Ecological Indicators. Elsevier BV. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolind.2023.111067.