Management effects on greenhouse gas dynamics in fen ditches

Mike Peacock, Luke M. Ridley, Chris D. Evans, Vincent Gauci

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

13 Citations (Scopus)


Globally, large areas of peatland have been drained through the digging of ditches, generally to increase agricultural production. By lowering the water table it is often assumed that drainage reduces landscape-scale emissions of methane (CH4) into the atmosphere to negligible levels. However, drainage ditches themselves are known to be sources of CH4 and other greenhouse gases (GHGs), but emissions data are scarce, particularly for carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrous oxide (N2O), and show high spatial and temporal variability. Here, we report dissolved GHGs and diffusive fluxes of CH4 and CO2 from ditches at three UK lowland fens under different management; semi-natural fen, cropland, and cropland restored to low-intensity grassland. Ditches at all three fens emitted GHGs to the atmosphere, but both fluxes and dissolved GHGs showed extensive variation both seasonally and within-site. CH4 fluxes were particularly large, with medians peaking at all three sites in August at 120–230 mg m− 2 d− 1. Significant between site differences were detected between the cropland and the other two sites for CO2 flux and all three dissolved GHGs, suggesting that intensive agriculture has major effects on ditch biogeochemistry. Multiple regression models using environmental and water chemistry data were able to explain 29–59% of observed variation in dissolved GHGs. Annual CH4 fluxes from the ditches were 37.8, 18.3 and 27.2 g CH4 m− 2 yr− 1 for the semi-natural, grassland and cropland, and annual CO2 fluxes were similar (1100 to 1440 g CO2 m− 2 yr− 1) among sites. We suggest that fen ditches are important contributors to landscape-scale GHG emissions, particularly for CH4. Ditch emissions should be included in GHG budgets of human modified fens, particularly where drainage has removed the original terrestrial CH4 source, e.g. agricultural peatlands.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalScience of The Total Environment
Early online date12 Nov 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Nov 2016


  • Peatland
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Methane
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Ditch flux
  • Restoration


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