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Hydroecological monitoring and modelling of river-floodplain restoration in a UK lowland river meadow

Clilverd, HM; (2016) Hydroecological monitoring and modelling of river-floodplain restoration in a UK lowland river meadow. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

Channelization and embankment of rivers has led to major ecological degradation of aquatic habitats worldwide. River restoration can be used to restore favourable hydrological conditions for target processes or species. This study is based on rarely available, detailed pre- and post-restoration hydrological data collected from 2007–2010 from a wet grassland meadow in Norfolk, UK. Based on these data, coupled hydrological/hydraulic models were developed of pre-embankment and post-embankment conditions using the MIKE-SHE/MIKE-11 system. Fine-scale plant and chemical sampling was conducted on the floodplain meadow to assess the spatial pattern of plant communities in relation to soil physicochemical conditions. Simulated groundwater levels for a 10-year period were then used to predict changes in plant community composition following embankment-removal. Hydrology was identified as the primary driver of plant community composition, while soil fertility was also important. Embankment removal resulted in widespread floodplain inundation at high river flows and frequent localised flooding at the river edge at lower flows. Subsequently, groundwater levels were higher and subsurface storage was greater. The restoration had a moderate effect on flood-peak attenuation and improved free drainage to the river. Reinstatement of overbank flows did not substantially affect the degree of aeration stress on the meadow, except along the river embankments where sum exceedance values for aeration stress increased from 0 m weeks (dry-grassland) to 7 m weeks (fen). The restored groundwater regime may be suitable for more diverse plant assemblages. However the benefits of flooding (e.g. propagule dispersal, reduced competition) may be over-ridden without management to reduce waterlogging during the growing season, or balance additional nutrient supply from river water. The results from this study suggest that removal of river embankments can increase river-floodplain hydrological connectivity to form a more natural flood-pulsed wetland ecotone, which favours conditions for enhanced flood storage, plant species composition and nutrient retention.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Hydroecological monitoring and modelling of river-floodplain restoration in a UK lowland river meadow
Event: UCL
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: River restoration, Embankment removal, Wet grassland meadow, Hydrological model, MIKE SHE
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Dept of Geography
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1515912
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