The impact of ditch blocking on the hydrological functioning of blanket peatlands

Holden, Joseph; Green, Sophie M.; Baird, Andy J.; Grayson, Richard P.; Dooling, Gemma P.; Chapman, Pippa J.; Evans, Christopher D.; Peacock, Mike and Swindles, Graeme (2017). The impact of ditch blocking on the hydrological functioning of blanket peatlands. Hydrological Processes, 31(3) pp. 525–539.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/hyp.11031

Abstract

Ditch blocking in blanket peatlands is common as part of peatland restoration. The effects of ditch-blocking on flow regimes and nearby water tables were examined in a field trial. After an initial six month monitoring period, eight ditches had peat dams installed 10 m apart along their entire length (dammed), four of these ditches were also partially infilled through bank reprofiling (reprofiled). Four ditches were left open with no dams or reprofiling (open). These 12 ditches and the surrounding peat were monitored for a further 4 years. An initial five-fold reduction in discharge occurred in the dammed and the reprofiled ditches with the displaced water being diverted to overland flow and pathways away from the ditches. However, there was a gradual change over time in ditch flow regime in subsequent years, with the overall volume of water leaving the dammed and the reprofiled ditches increasing per unit of rainfall to around twice that which occurred in the first year after blocking. Hence monitoring for greater than one year is important for understanding hydrological impacts of peatland restoration. Overland flow and flow in the upper ~4 cm of peat was common and occurred in the inter-ditch areas for over half of the time after ditch blocking. There was strong evidence that topographic boundaries of small ditch catchments, despite being defined using a high-resolution LiDAR-based terrain model, were not always equivalent to actual catchment areas. Hence caution is needed when upscaling area-based fluxes, such as aquatic carbon fluxes, from smaller scale studies including those using ditches and small streams. The effect of ditch blocking on local water tables was spatially highly variable but small overall (time-weighted mean effect < 2 cm). Practitioners seeking to raise water tables through peatland restoration should first be informed either by prior measurement of water tables or by spatial modelling to show whether the peatland already has shallow water tables or whether there are locations which could potentially undergo large water-table recoveries.

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