Rainfall intensity and catchment size control storm runoff in a gullied blanket peatland

Donald Edokpa, David Milledge, T. E. H Allott, Joseph Holden, Emma Shuttleworth, Martin Kay, Adam Johnston, Gail Millin-Chalabi, Matt Scott-Campbell, David Chandler, Jamie Freestone, Martin G Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Upland blanket peat is widespread in the headwaters of UK catchments, but much of it has been degraded through atmospheric pollution, vegetation change and erosion. Runoff generation in these headwaters is an important element of downstream flood risk and these areas are increasingly the focus of interventions to restore the peat ecosystem and to potentially mitigate downstream flooding. Here we use a series of multivariate analysis techniques to examine controls on storm runoff behavior within and between ten blanket peat catchments all within 5 km of one another and ranging in size from 0.2-3.9 hectares. We find that: 1) for all 10 catchments, rainfall intensity is the dominant driver for both magnitude and timing of peak discharge, and that total and antecedent rainfall is important for peak discharge only in small storms; 2) there is considerable inter-catchment variability in: runoff coefficient, lag time, peak runoff, and their predictability from rainfall; however, 3) a significant fraction of the inter-catchment variability can be explained by catchment characteristics, particularly catchment area; and 4) catchment controls on peak discharge and runoff coefficient for small storms highlight the importance of storage and connectivity while those for large events suggest that surface flow attenuation dominates. Together these results suggest a switching rainfall-runoff behavior where catchment storage, connectivity and antecedent conditions control small discharge peaks but become increasingly irrelevant for larger storms. Our results suggest that, in the context of Natural Flood Management potential, expanding depression storage (e.g. distributed shallow water pools) in addition to existing restoration methods could increase the range of storms within which connectivity and storage remain important and that for larger storms measures which target surface runoff velocities are likely to be important.
Original languageEnglish
Article number127688
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Early online date7 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2022

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Manchester Environmental Research Institute


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