Forty-year trends in the flux and concentration of phosphorus in British rivers

Aylin Civan, Fred Worrall*, Helen P. Jarvie, Nicholas J.K. Howden, Tim P. Burt

*Corresponding author for this work

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

9 Citations (Scopus)
117 Downloads (Pure)


Given the importance of phosphorus (P) in the eutrophication of natural waters, this study considered the long-term time series of total phosphorus (TP) and total reactive phosphorus (TRP) in British rivers from 1974 to 2012. The approach included not only trend analysis of fluxes and concentrations but also change point analysis. TP and TRP concentrations and fluxes in British rivers have declined since the mid-1980s. Over the last decade of the record the majority of individual sites did show significant downward trends in TP and TRP concentrations but, in 28% of cases for TRP concentration and 14% of cases for TP concentration, the decadal trend was a significant increase. Out of 230 sites, 136 showed a significant step decrease in TRP concentration; no sites showed a significant step increase. The modal year for the step changes for both TRP concentration and flux was 1997. Step changes are likely associated with improvements made at sewage treatment works to comply with the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC). The decrease in TRP concentration due to the step change were in the range of 0.68% and 89% with a geometric mean of 22%, with the rest of the decrease accounted by long-term, persistent downward trend.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)314-327
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Early online date3 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2018


  • Total reactive phosphorus
  • Total phosphorus
  • Change point analysis
  • Sewage treatment


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