Boardman, J., Shepheard, M. L., Walker, E. and Foster, I. D. L. (2009) Soil erosion and risk assessment for on- and off-farm impacts: a test case using the Midhurst area, West Sussex, UK. Journal of Environmental Management.90(8), pp. 2578-2588. 0301-4797.
Boardman, J., Shepheard, M. L., Walker, E. and Foster, I. D. L.
Soil erosion on agricultural land is a growing problem in Western Europe and constitutes a threat to soil quality and to the ability of soils to provide environmental services. The off-site impacts of runoff and eroded soil, principally eutrophication of water bodies, sedimentation of gravel-bedded rivers, loss of reservoir capacity, muddy flooding of roads and communities, are increasingly recognised and costed. The shift of funding in the European Union (EU) from production-related to avoidance of pollution and landscape protection, raises issues of cross-compliance: public support for agriculture has to be seen to give value-for-money. In this context risk-assessment procedures have been introduced to help farmers recognise sites where either certain crops should not be grown or anti-erosion measures are required. In England, Defra [Defra, 2005a. Controlling Soil Erosion: a Manual for the Assessment and Management of Agricultural Land at Risk of Water Erosion in Lowland England. Revised September 2005. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, London] sets out a system of risk-assessment, including ranking of crops susceptible to erosion and anti-erosion measures, that may be selected. We assess this system using field data for an area of erodible soils in the Rother valley, Sussex. The Defra approach correctly identifies most at-risk fields and, taken together with land-use maps, allows non-compliance with advice to be highlighted. We suggest a simple extension to the system which would further identify at-risk fields in terms of possible damage to roads and rivers from muddy runoff. The increased risk of erosion in the study area is associated with certain crops: potatoes, winter cereals, maize and grazed turnips and seems unlikely to be the result of changes in rainfall which over the last 130 years are minimal. We have not evaluated proposed anti-erosion measures in the area because few have been put into practice. The European Water Framework Directive will increasingly focus attention on agricultural fields as a source of river pollution. Assessing the risk of erosion and the need for field testing of suggested approaches, are not simply issues for the EU, but for the management of global agricultural systems