Long-Term Water Quality Studies in a Eutrophic Lake Catchment: Slapton Ley, SW England

Monday, 15 December 2014: 12:05 PM
Timothy Peter Burt1, Fred Worrall1 and Nicholas J K Howden2, (1)University of Durham, Durham, DH1, United Kingdom, (2)University of Bristol, Bristol, BS8, United Kingdom
Monitoring is the process by which we keep the behaviour of the environment in view, an essential way of discovering whether there are significant undesirable changes taking place. Long-term datasets reveal important patterns for scientists to explain and are essential for testing hypotheses undreamt of at the time monitoring scheme was set up. Many environmental processes take place over relatively long periods of time; very often, subtle processes are embedded within highly variable systems so that their weak signal cannot be extracted without a long record.

Slapton Ley is a freshwater coastal lagoon in SW England. The Ley is part of a National Nature Reserve, wetland 116 ha in area which is divided into two basins: the Higher Ley (39 ha) is mainly reed swamp; the Lower Ley (77 ha) is open water. In the 1960s it became apparent that the Ley was becoming increasingly eutrophic. In order to gauge water, sediment and nutrient inputs into the lake, measurements began on the main catchments in late 1969. Continuous monitoring of discharge and a weekly water-sampling programme have been maintained by the Slapton Ley Field Centre ever since. The monitoring programme has been supplemented by a number of research projects which have sought to identify the salient hydrological processes operating within the Slapton catchments and to relate these to the delivery of sediment and solute to the stream system.

The nitrate issue has been of particular interest at Slapton; although many longer series exist for large rivers like the Thames, the long record of nitrate data for the Slapton catchments is unique in Britain for small rural basins. Other issues to be explored will be the phosphorus legacy in lake sediments and a long-term decline in lake pH. The Slapton water quality record has confirmed that undesirable changes are taking place, revealed evidence of important patterns to be explained, allowed testing of new hypotheses (e.g. links with land-use change) and helped provide strategies for more successful management of the catchment area.