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Content archived on 2024-05-27

An environmental soil test to determine the potential from sediment and phosphorus transfer in run-off from agricultural land


An Environmental Soil Test to Determine the Potential for Sediment and Phosphorus Transfer in Run-off from Agricultural Land (DESPRAL)
Problems to be solved
The transport of soil particles and associated pollutants in run-off from agricultural land is increasingly being recognised as a factor responsible for the deterioration in the biodiversity and quality of freshwaters. Phosphorus (P) has been identified as a key-limiting nutrient in freshwater systems and national R&D programmes have identified the importance of soil particles in P transfer causing eutrophication. National regulators need to maintain water quality for a range of users and seek methods to both identify where suspended pollutants originate within a catchments and design practical cost-effective land management options to prevent or control their transfer to the watercourse taking into account local conditions. The programme of work is relevant to EU policies aimed at standardising methodologies for assessment and prevention of pollution, developing environmentally sustainable farming practices and protecting watercourses from deterioration in ecological biodiversity and quality.
Scientific objectives and approach
The development of cost-effective methods to reduce the risk of diffuse pollution and/or eutrophication of surface and groundwater requires accurate identification of high risk contributing areas and an understanding of the relative contribution of natural geographic factors and agricultural management factors influencing the transport of soil particles and associated phosphorus (P) within catchments. To achieve these aims, a simple environmental soil P test uniquely based on soil dispersivity will be developed to routinely quantify soil susceptibility to particle transfer and the degree of particle enrichment with P due to agricultural practices. The test will be calibrated against suspended sediments collected in run-off from simulated and natural storm events using EU soils of different physical and chemical characteristics from experimental plots with known management histories. The test will be incorporated into existing risk assessment methodology and its usefulness as a management tool in identifying critical source areas evaluated at the farm and catchments scale. Comparisons of novel cultivation practices in selected high loss risk areas and soils will be undertaken to identify appropriate and cost-effective remedial options in catchments with diffuse pollution problems. In collaboration with an end-user, guidelines on best land management practices and their relative cost-effectiveness will be produced and disseminated to relevant stakeholders. Adoption of the test will enable more precise identification of high P loss risk areas than is possible with conventional methodologies and the work will support EU COST Action 832 on 'Quantifying the Agricultural Contribution to Eutrophication'.
Expected impacts
The results of the project will lead to the development of management tools and guidelines that can be disseminated and used by end-users as part of integrated river basin management strategies for the assessment and control of diffuse pollution. Increased biodiversity in natural waters, improved water quality for a range of users, and prevention of potential health hazards associated with algae toxins will enhance the quality of life and help reduce the adverse environmental and economic impacts of eutrophication.

Call for proposal

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EU contribution
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Martyr Worthy
United Kingdom

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Total cost
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Participants (6)