Erik W. Meyles


Concerns have been raised on the deterioration of heather moorland due to management in the UK. A study was therefore conducted on the impacts of moorland management on the soils and hydrology of a catchment on Dartmoor. Soil moisture was measured gridwise using TDR on 19 occasions. At 23 sites within this grid, physical properties of the topsoil were obtained. At three locations, tensiometer nests were installed, recording soil suction at 10 cm depth intervals. At the catchment scale, stream discharge and rainfall were recorded. Grazing densities within the watershed were estimated and the observed patterns were related to vegetation types. Results from the TDR grid showed that in dry conditions, soil moisture patterns are heterogeneous in contrast to a more uniform pattern in wet periods. A threshold soil moisture content of about 0.60 cm3 cm-3 divides the two conditions. The exponential relationship between average hillslope soil moisture content and stream discharge also revealed the division between wet and dry states. A regression analysis showed that during dry conditions, the vegetation plays a significant role in determining the soil water status. During wet conditions, topography becomes more important. In these conditions, the soil water movement is mainly lateral, whereas in the dry state, this is vertical in the soil profile. Tensiometer data showed that most soil water movement is in the topsoil. Analyses suggested that soil moisture under vegetation classes associated with higher grazing pressures is higher in similar topographic conditions. Soil bulk density is higher and the total porosity is lower near the soil surface. This suggests that less rainfall is required to reach the soil moisture threshold and water will be transported laterally down the slope. A heather burning experiment revealed that the direct effect of temperature is shallow. Soil moisture levels do not change over the course of the burn. However, in dry situations during summer, soil moisture contents under burned plots are higher than under unburned vegetation probably due to reduced transpiration. If this effect is similar at the hillslope scale, when the soil is wetting up, the soil moisture threshold value could be reached at an earlier stage and accelerated lateral water movement could be the result. It can be concluded therefore, that moorland management could accelerate water movement on the hillslopes causing higher discharge peaks in wet periods and consequently low flows in summer. However, the effects are subtle and encouraging vegetation heterogeneity could play a role in buffering water to prevent loss to the stream.

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