Merthyr Mawr: a case study for the assessment of nitrate at humid dunes in England and Wales

Whiteman, M.I.; Farr, G.; Jones, P.S.; Schutten, J.; Papaioannou, A.. 2017 Merthyr Mawr: a case study for the assessment of nitrate at humid dunes in England and Wales. Journal of Coastal Conservation, 21 (5). 669-684.

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Humid dunes in the UK are at risk from nutrient pressures from multiple sources. The Water Framework Directive 2000/60/EC (WFD) requires assessment and identification of these pressures with appropriate measures defined to mitigate against further damage. We discuss the application of nitrate threshold values for the WFD classification, illustrating this with a case study at Merthyr Mawr, South Wales, where ephemeral groundwater discharge from a spring (‘Burrows Well’) sourced within the Carboniferous Limestone, creates a large dune slack. Ecological surveys suggest that the vegetation in this slack was in unfavourable condition, due to high levels of nitrate. Applying the source-pathway-receptor model an investigation was undertaken to improve the conceptual model and assess the significance of damage from groundwater derived nutrients. Results show groundwater nitrate concentrations ~ 10 mg/l as NO3-N feeding the main slack waters. The vegetation survey data shows clear evidence of ecological damage, and the hydrogeological data traces the source of this back to the Carboniferous Limestone aquifer and not the overlying blown sands. Discharging groundwater is the source of the enrichment. Isotopic analysis suggests that the N is derived from inorganic fertilizer and/or atmospheric N. During the first cycle WFD characterisation the unfavourable status of the dunes due to chemical groundwater pressure resulted in a failure of the surrounding groundwater body, which was designated as poor status. The site has been re assessed for the 2nd Cycle WFD characterisation where recently developed nitrate ‘threshold’ values have been applied to assess the significance of damage for groundwater derived nutrients. The surrounding Carboniferous Limestone catchment is complex and could not be sufficiently constrained, thus land management changes could not be targeted. The paucity of historical or repeat vegetation surveys limits our ability to measure change within the dune vegetation and causes difficulties in understanding the impact of multiple pressures.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 1400-0350
Additional Keywords: GroundwaterBGS, Groundwater, Surface water interaction, Nitrate pollution
Date made live: 04 Apr 2017 13:38 +0 (UTC)

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