A comparison of conventional and 137Cs-based estimates of soil erosion rates on arable and grassland across lowland England and Wales

R. Evans*, A. L. Collins, Y. Zhang, I. D.L. Foster, J. Boardman, H. Sint, M. R.F. Lee, B. A. Griffith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)
387 Downloads (Pure)


Soils deliver a range of ecosystem services and underpin conventional global food production which must increase to feed the projected growth in human population. Although soil erosion by water and subsequent sediment delivery to rivers are natural processes, anthropogenic pressures, including modern farming practices and management, have accelerated soil erosion rates on both arable and grassland. A range of approaches can be used to assess and document soil erosion rates and, in the case of the UK, these mainly comprise the 137Cs-based approach, conventional surveys using volumetric measurements, integration of information on suspended sediment flux, fine sediment source apportionment and landscape sediment retention and traditional bounded hydrological monitoring at edge-of-field using experimental platforms. We compare the erosion rates for arable and grassland in lowland England assessed by these different techniques. Rates assessed by volumetric measurements are similar to those generated by integrating information on suspended sediment flux, sources and landscape retention, but are much less than those estimated by the 137Cs-based approach; of the order of one magnitude less for arable land. The 137Cs approach assumes an initial distribution of 137Cs uniformly spread across the landscape and relates the sampled distribution to erosion, but other (transport) processes are also involved and their representation in the calibration procedures remains problematic. We suggest that the 137Cs technique needs to be validated more rigorously and conversion models re-calibrated. As things stand, rates of erosion based on the distribution of 137Cs may well overstate the severity of the problem in lowland Britain and, therefore, are not a reliable indicator of water erosion rates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-64
Number of pages16
JournalEarth-Science Reviews
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2017


  • Cs approach
  • Hydrological monitoring
  • Sediment fingerprinting
  • Soil erosion
  • Volumetric survey


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