Although land and water are intricately linked, not all land is equal in contributing towards impacts on water quality. Heterogeneities in the landscape (e.g. soil type, land-use), coupled with variable approaches to how land is managed, result in a varied patchwork of farmed fields – some highly productive, others heavily modified, some more risky in terms of pollutant loss. Recognising spatial sensitivity in land vulnerability for contributing to diffuse pollution is clearly an important first step in the design of mitigation and management options for protecting water quality. However, the next challenge is to implement spatial targeting of management options in the ‘right place’ and at the ‘right time’, and to influence on-farm decision-making for areas of land where it will have the highest impact and the most benefit for wider environmental water quality. Therefore, the aim of this studentship is to investigate a new dimension in diffuse pollution management for the protection of raw water quality. The project will explore how the catchment export of manure-derived pollutants can respond to novel social & economic influences on manure management and land use. By using a combination of environmental economics and diffuse pollution modelling, the student will develop an approach centred on the concept of ‘manure trading’. This novel management strategy will complement existing catchment sensitive farming agendas, and provide the socio-economic incentive needed to improve water quality in catchment systems.
Livestock manure trading has been used cost-effectively to recycle nutrients within the landscape and improve soil fertility in several countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium, France and the USA. In the UK, Nitrate Vulnerable Zone guidelines have also encouraged farmers to trade surplus animal manure, although this has been met with limited success. However, there is evidence that some farmers do voluntarily engage in such trades because they are economically mutually beneficial. This studentship will use a range of catchments to further develop the concept of manure trading, and by using recent advances in hydrological connectivity and spatial risk mapping, this project will adjust and fine-tune such trading to benefit the water environment.
Many jurisdictions mandate how livestock manures are managed to protect adjacent water quality from microbial pollutants and nutrients that pose an environmental and human health risk. Current limits however, are not catchment, farm or subfield specific enough, i.e. they do not reflect the inherent spatial variation in diffuse pollution risk at a fine spatial resolution. More importantly, they do not account for the hydrological connectivity or landscape flow pathways of faecal bacteria, phosphorus and nitrogen from manure applications across the landscape. Significant advances in surveillance science have made it feasible to identify high & low risk areas of land in terms of pollutants from manure, which could provide a greater incentive for trading this valuable resource.
Key research questions: This studentship will develop the novel socio-economic tool of ‘manure-trading’ as a method to reduce multi-pollutant (nutrient and pathogen) loading pressures on land considered being most at risk of generating diffuse pollution. This approach will be developed and tested with a view to become an additional component of a wider catchment management toolbox for water quality protection. Project objectives include:
O1. Develop a conceptual model to inform on the spatial & temporal scenarios that govern where and when the cost-effectiveness of strategies for managing raw water quality via manure management & trading may exceed that of strategies designed to target water treatment;
O2. Co-construct a socio-economic framework with relevant stakeholders to legitimise the concept of ‘manure-trading’ as an approach to influence decision making for water quality benefits in catchments;
O3. Undertake a comprehensive survey to understand wider stakeholder perceptions surrounding the use of incentive schemes to reduce diffuse pollution and evaluate responses to the concept of manure-trading & the socio-economic framework thus far developed;
O4. Devise and run a series of manure-trading choice experiments in priority case study catchments with farmer & advisor communities to test the potential of manure-trading as a viable socio-economic lever to aid water quality management.