Articles | Volume 16, issue 7
Research article
24 Jul 2012
Research article |  | 24 Jul 2012

Effects of peatland drainage management on peak flows

C. E. Ballard, N. McIntyre, and H. S. Wheater

Abstract. Open ditch drainage has historically been a common land management practice in upland blanket peats, particularly in the UK. However, peatland drainage is now generally considered to have adverse effects on the upland environment, including increased peak flows. As a result, drain blocking has become a common management strategy in the UK over recent years, although there is only anecdotal evidence to suggest that this might decrease peak flows. The change in the hydrological regime associated with the drainage of blanket peat and the subsequent blocking of drains is poorly understood, therefore a new physics-based model has been developed that allows the exploration of the associated hydrological processes. A series of simulations is used to explore the response of intact, drained and blocked drain sites at field scales. While drainage is generally found to increase peak flows, the effect of drain blocking appears to be dependent on local conditions, sometimes decreasing and sometimes increasing peak flows. Based on insights from these simulations we identify steep smooth drains as those that would experience the greatest reduction in field-scale peak flows if blocked and recommend that future targeted field studies should be focused on examining surface runoff characteristics.