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Jessica Kitch (2019)

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Ms Jess Kitch (Plymouth University) has won the 2019 Marjorie Sweeting Dissertation Award for her dissertation titled “Sediment Source Fingerprinting in the Merriott Stream Catchment, Somerset”.

Abstract: Increased sediment erosion and soil loss are current issues that demand research if impacts are to be mitigated to benefit both society and the environment. Increased erosion is resulting in greater quantities of soil leaving catchments than entering, leading to increased stress on agricultural production in areas of depleting soils. This increased erosion also leads to increased sediment yields that can have detrimental impacts upon ecosystems and organisms. Increased sediment can infill macropore that are vital for fish spawning, as well as reduce river capacities and increase flood risks. Identifying sources of sediment using sediment fingerprinting approaches is key in the development if effective management strategies to mitigate the erosion issue. This study applied sediment fingerprinting techniques within the Merriott Stream catchment to trace sources of sediment and identify areas of erosion. Geochemical tracer properties were used alongside the MixSIAR model to identify the contribution of each sediment source. This model was originally developed for ecological research but has been applied to a catchment. The results show that the dominant contributor to suspended sediment was Arable land, whilst the dominant contributor to deposited sediment was the channel bank. This was likely due to agricultural practices increasing soils susceptibility to erosion and enhancing hydraulic processes. The latter was also a likely contributor to channel bank erosion and the cause of channel incision alongside the lack of vegetation on banks and cattle poaching. This study suggests there is a strong link between anthropogenic activities and increased erosion within this small catchment. These results can be used to guide the management strategies throughout the catchment to better mitigate the issues. By working with the environment agency and the South West Farm & Wildlife advisory group this project has the potential to address debates regarding sediment fingerprinting and its application in management contexts. Furthermore, the use of the MixSIAR model in this study illustrates how it can be successfully applied in a sediment fingerprinting approach and how it could be used in future sediment fingerprinting projects.

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Jess Kitch
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