Impact of land drainage on peatland hydrology

J. Holden, M. G. Evans, T. P. Burt, M. Horton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There is a long history of drainage of blanket peat but few studies of the long-term hydrological impact of drainage. This paper aims to test differences in runoff production processes between intact and drained blanket peat catchments and determine whether there have been any long-term changes in stream flow since drainage occurred. Hillslope runoff processes and stream discharge were measured in four blanket peat catchments. Two catchments were drained with open-cut ditches in the 1950s. Ditching originally resulted in shorter lag times and flashier storm hydrographs but no change in the annual catchment runoff efficiency. In the period between 2002 and 2004, the hydrographs in the drained catchments, while still flashy, were less sensitive to rainfall than in the 1950s and the runoff efficiency had significantly increased. Drains resulted in a distinctive spatial pattern of runoff production across the slopes. Overland flow was significantly lower in the drained catchments where throughflow was more dominant. In the intact peatlands, matrix throughflow produced by peat layers below 10 cm was rare and produced
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1764-1778
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Environmental Quality
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2006


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