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Photograph of wildfires on English moorland

Research projects

The following list provides a selection of upland research projects involving researchers in EPRG.

Current and recent research projects

Conservation classification of lakes in Wales

Funded by Countryside Council for Wales.
Researchers: Tim Allott in collaboration with University College London.

This project uses integrated biological and physico-chemical data from a suite of 30 Welsh Lakes to develop classification systems for conservation purposes. A particular feature is the use of palaeolimnogical analyses to establish environmental change within the study lakes.

Controls on acidity in headwater catchments of the South Pennines

Researchers: Steve Daniels, Clive Agnew, Tim Allott, Martin Evans.

This project aims to identify spatial and temporal patterns of hydrological and geological controls on the water chemistry of upland headwater streams.

Fluvian carbon flux

Funded by DEFRA
Researchers: Martin Evans, Tim Allott, Claire Goulsbra.

This is a DEFRA funded project examining the fate of fluvial carbon from eroding peatlands. The fate of fluvial carbon is a vital missing link in current understanding of terrestrial carbon cycling in peatlands. If particulate and dissolved carbon are oxidised to climatically active forms then the fluvial carbon flux is effectively a significant greenhouse gas loss from peatlands. This project in collaboration with the Universities of Leeds, Durham, and Bangor and CEH Bangor aims to determine the scale of this risk.

The Manchester component of the project focuses on the fate of particulate carbon in streams and on floodplains and includes experimental work at Upper North Grain and laboratory experiments.

Evapotranspiration and groundwater flux in upland peat systems

Researchers: Clive Agnew

*details available soon*

The effects of gully blocking as an erosion control measure

Researchers: Sarah Crowe, Martin Evans, Tim Allott In collaboration with the National Trust

This project involves monitoring the hydrological and geomorphological impacts of recently installed gully blocks in the southern Pennines. It will also study a range of natural analogues with the aim of predicting the future trajectory of blocked sites.

Heavy metal storage and flux in eroded peat catchments of the Peak District

Researchers: James Rothwell, Tim Allott, Martin Evans

High concentrations of industrially-derived, atmospherically-transported heavy metals are stored in the upper layer of the blanket peats of the Peak District. Erosion of the upper peat layer could therefore be releasing high concentrations of toxic heavy metals, associated with eroded peat particles, into the fluvial systems of the southern Pennines.

The aim of this research project is to construct a heavy metal budget for Upper North Grain, a peat catchment of the Peak District, and develop a model that can be used to show the conditions promoting heavy metal export from eroded peat catchments. The extent of any associated pollution risk will also be assessed.

High resolution Holocene sedimentology of upland lakes in Wales

Researchers: Eleanor Teague, Tim Allott, Joe Mcquaker (earth sciences) Martin Evans.

This study will use novel techniques to evaluate climate controlled variability in clastic sediment signatures in upland lakes.

Hyperspectral remote sensing of blanket peat moorlands

  1. Synergy of HyMap and digital elevation data for the analysis of upland peat erosion patterns (SHAC)
  2. SWIR remote sensing of blanket peat composition.

These projects focus on the application of Airborne and ground based hyperspectral remote sensing of upland landscape. In particular the use of hyperpspectral data to remotely sense peat composition has been a major focus.

Hyperspectral remote sensing of peat composition

This project aims to identify spatial and temporal patterns of hydrological and geological controls on the water chemistry of upland headwater streams.

This project is using both airborne hyperspectral data and ground acquired ASD data to remotely sense to composition of bare peat surfaces. The degree of humification of peat surfaces and the impacts of moisture content are a key focus.

Impacts of erosion and restoration on POC flux and pollutant mobilisation in the Peak District

Funded by Moors for the Future Partnership and the Yorkshire Peat Partnership Moorland Research Fund.
Researchers: Emma Shuttleworth, Martin Evans, James Rothwell (in collaboration with Simon Hutchinson, School of Environment and Life Sciences, University of Salford).

This study aims to assess the efficacy of peatland restoration in reducing POC and lead release. Three sites have been studied in the Bleaklow area of the Peak District; each representing different surface conditions: actively eroding, recently revegetated, and intact.

Potential suspended sediment sources have been identified and characterised at each site. This has included a survey using a field portable XRF unit to quantifying lead concentrations across the peat surface. A time integrated mass flux sampler (TIMS) has also been developed to collect suspended sediment.

Sediment source fingerprinting techniques such as the application of unmixing models will provide a useful tool in assessing the relative contribution of the potential sources to the suspended load.

Knowledge for Wildfire

Knowledge exchange fellowship funded by NERC, 2012-2015.
Knowledge exchange fellow: Julia McMorrow.

Long term geomorphological monitoring at a Environmental Change Network Site

Funded by the British Geomorphological Research Group)
Researchers: Martin Evans in collaboration with Durham University

This project is based on long term annual monitoring of sediment transport and fluvial form at the Moor House National Nature reserve. The data will be assessed alongside detailed environmental monitoring at the site as part of the ECN programme.

Photograph A taken on 22 September 2000. Photograph B taken 21 August 2002 soon after a major flood which occurred on 30 July 2002.  Estimated flood peak was 30 m3s-1 (for comparison maximum flow in the period 1997-1999 was 12 m3s-1).  Note major bank erosion providing new blocks and re-organisation of channel in response to movement of existing large blocks.

Modelling sediment flux from eroding blanket peat in the southern Pennines

Researchers: Juan Yang, Martin Evans.

This project is looking in detail at the role of sediment supply as a control on the nature of discharge/sediment flux relations with a view to refining models of fluvial sediment flux from peatland systems.

Monitoring carbon flux from restored peatlands

Funded by Moors for the Future and Natural England
Researchers: Martin Evans, Richard Pawson, in collaboration with Fred Worrall, Department of Earth Sciences, Durham University

This pilot project is assessing the impact of recent moorland restoration on the Bleaklow Plateau on carbon flux. Dissolved, particulate and gaseous carbon flux are being monitored at 16 plots and 5 micro-catchments across the Bleaklow Plateau in order to assess the impact of liming and seeding approaches to peatland revegetation.

Pre-industrial variability of lake water acidity in upland lakes

Researchers: Alan Clarke, Tim Allott, Martin Evans

This project uses a palaeolimnological approach to assessing the stability of the water chemistry of upland lakes prior to recent anthropogenic acidification, and will provide reference conditions for the management of lake acidification.

Recovery of lakes from surface water acidification

Funded by ENSIS/DEFRA.
Researchers: Tim Allot, Alan Clarke In collaboration with University of Newcastle and CEH

A large palaeolimnological dataset is being used to evaluate spatial patterns of acidification across Great Britain with a focus on providing reference conditions for lake recovery and allowing alternative models of lake acidification to be assessed.

The role of particulate carbon in upland carbon budgets

Researchers: Richard Pawson, Martin Evans, Tim Allott.

Particulate carbon is the largest part of the peatland carbon budget in eroding upland blanket peat systems. However, understanding of the fate of particulate carbon is very limited. This project aims to investigate slope and channel transformations of eroded particulate carbon.

Sediment budgets of upland blanket peat

Funded by Royal Society, Royal Geographical Society, British Geomorphological Research Group, and The University of Manchester.

Researchers: Martin Evans in collaboration with Dr Jeff Warburton, Earth Surface Systems Group, Department of Geography, University of Durham

Detailed measurement of rates of peat erosion and transport at a site in the North Pennines have been aggregated to produce for the first time an integrated budget of sediment erosion, transport and deposition in blanket peatland.

Ongoing work is developing comparable data from more severely eroded southern Pennine catchments.

Uncertainty in channel networks derived from LIDAR DTMs

Researchers: John Lindsay

This project will evaluate the uncertainty in digital terrain model (DTM) derived channel networks that occur as a result of elevation error and assess the significance of this uncertainty as a source of error for runoff modelling. Uncertainty in network geometry (e.g. extent, stream order, width function) will be assessed using Monte Carlo procedures and high-resolution elevation data.

The main study site is a highly dissected upland area located in the southern Pennines, for which extensive LiDAR data is available. Whilst LiDAR represents state-of-the-science in terrain modelling technology, the algorithms for automated channel mapping were originally designed for use with much coarser DTMs generated from relatively sparse elevation data.

Therefore, it is necessary to evaluate the appropriateness of these techniques for use with LiDAR data.

Understanding gully blocking in deep peat

Funded by Moors for the Future Project.
Researchers: Martin Evans, Tim Allott, Sarah Crowe, Laura Liddaman.

This project assessed the efficacy of gully blocking as a moorland restoration technique, through studying existing gully blocks and also through a study of natural re-vegetation as a potential analogue to the gully blocking process.

Previous projects

Sloping land improvement project (SLIP)

Rach Rat catchment, Binh Phuoc Province, Vietnam


British National Space Centre, National Remote Sensing Centre Ltd, Manchester Geographical Society, The University of Manchester, Faculty of Arts.

Senior researchers


  • Mrs Tran Thi Van
  • Miss Dao Kim Nguygen Thuy Binh
  • Mr Le Huu Thanh
  • Mr Nguyen Tho


  • To develop a pilot GIS to estimate soil loss under different land management scenarios using land cover maps derived from remotely sensed images, terrain images and ground data on soil erodibility and loss.
  • To analyse change in tree cover over time from remotely sensed images.
  • To increase the capacity of the Sub-Institute of geography by training young Vietnamese scientists in these methods.
  • To apply these methods to manage steep soils, increase agricultural productivity and improve the standard of living of local communities in Binh Phuoc Province.

Study area

Location: The Rach Rat catchment lies approximately 120 km north of Ho Chi Minh City, in the vicinity of Dông Tãm and Tãm Phuoc settlements in the Dong Phu District of Binh Phuoc Province (newly established from Song Be Province).

Topography: The study area is an undulating basalt plateau with steep sided valleys incised into the underlying easily eroded, clayey sandstones. Floodplain development is restricted to third or fourth order streams. Steep, normally dry zero order streams cut back into the convex slopes. Thus, the most erodible rocks tend to outcrop on the steep, convex slopes descending towards stream channels.

Climate: The climate is tropical monsoon with a marked rainy season from April/May to December, followed by the dry season. The highest rainfall is in July and October. Mean annual rainfall is 2044 mm, humidity 78° and temperature 26° C. Flooding is common in the wet season.

Land use: The natural cover was once tropical monsoon forest. In the years leading up to 1986, the forest cover was depleted by small scale logging and agriculture. Since 1986 clearance for agriculture has been on a massive scale. It marked the start of the transition from a command to a capital economy, known as 'Doi moi', which permitted settlers to claim land by clearing for small-scale agriculture. Burned tree stumps are now all that remain (Figure 1) with strips of bamboo forest along steep uncultivable valley sides.

Perennial tree crops such as cashew, coffee, banana, and longan are grown on the plateau in 4 to 5 ha plots (Figure 2), alongside larger and much longer established rubber plantations. Annual crops are grown during the wet season, with land left fallow in the dry season. Two crops of maize are sown in May and September and harvested in August and December. Maize is also grown below young cashew trees up to canopy closure at four years old. Cassava is planted at the start of the wet season in May and harvested in December. The whole plant is pulled up to harvest the root, so the soil surface is significantly disturbed and the soil erosion potential increased. Wet padi rice, is grown on the floodplain. It is planted in the wet season and harvested when the fields dry out in the dry season. The seasonality of the crop calendar produces marked seasonal changes in reflectance on satellite images (Figure 4 and Figure 5).

Soils: Four soil groups occur in the study area: (i) Ferralsols on the basalt plateau are relatively fertile; (ii) Ferralsols over schist on valley sides with >15° slope are stony, thin, low in organic matter and have lateritic horizons; (iii) localised areas of black Andosols, found on tuff and volcanic ash in craters; (iv) Fluvisols, found on the alluvial floodplains.

Soil erosion: Soil erosion is a major problem (Figure 3), but the newly-formed province has few scientific resources to devote to it. Three needs have been identified which would help to protect soil resources and so alleviate rural poverty. First, evidence of the link between cause (farming practice) and effect (soil erosion) is needed. Second the benefits of simple, local scale changes in land cover and farming practice in reducing soil loss must be demonstrated, including bunds and contour planting. Third, given the land use and terrain, a cost-effective way of estimating soil erosion potential over large areas is required.

Data and methods

Satellite images: Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) images were available for the end of the wet season (22 December 1999), (Figure 4) and the end of the dry season (15 April 2001), (Figure 5). A 1989 TM image is available to study long- term change in forest cover.

The images were being geometrically corrected and co-registered for multi-temporal analysis. Training and test data are being collected to produce a land cover classification from the co-registered wet and dry season images. A Global Positioning System (GPS) was used to accurately locate the sample areas and to collect points to use in geometric correction of the satellite images. The importance of using two dates is demonstrated by the significant changes in false colour (and thus reflectance) on the two TM images. Much more exposed soil (blue tones) is seen in the April image where wet season annual crops of maize, cassava and rice have been harvested and are about to be replanted. The perennial tree crops, cashew, coffee, banana, rubber, teak and fruit trees such as longan remain red in both images. Slight changes in reflectance due to seasonal changes in leaf pigments help to discriminate between them. For instance, rubber has a flush of new, brighter green leaves in December. The oldest leaves yellow in March and fall in April, but the tree is not completely deciduous with leaves of different ages growing together.

Terrain data: A digital elevation model (DEM, Figure 6) has been constructed from contour data digitised from a 1:40,000 topographic map. Its accuracy was tested against a DEM derived from a SPOT stereo pair of panchromatic images. The DEM was used to generate spatial data on terrain properties contributing to soil erosion such as slope and slope length.

GIS database:  A geographic information system (GIS) data base was being compiled, consisting of: vector layers digitised from topographic maps and field survey (roads/tracks, drainage, contours, farms); raster layers (land cover from remotely sensed images, DEM, slope, etc.); socio-economic data complied from interviews with families.

Soil erosion data:  Soil erosion on slopes under different land covers was monitored using an erosion bridge and erosion plots. The erosion bridge is a portable device consisting of a 1.5m long rigid bar, which is mounted on fixed stakes whose height does not change over time. The distance between the ground and the bar gives the micro-topographic profile. Repeated measurements allow the magnitude of loss or gain in soil to be quantified. Sites were chosen to include areal sources such as agricultural plots and linear sources such as unmetalled roads.

Erosion plots were constructed on different land cover types and farming practices. For instance, one plot had cashew with cross-slope soil bunds to trap sediment and a second had cashew with grass undergrowth (Figure 7), so that the effect on soil loss of simple changes in agricultural practice can be demonstrated. Samples for the runoff were collected daily by the farmer at the 'pilot farm', where the plots are located and taken fortnightly for analysis of sediment yield in Ho Chi Minh City. This gave the local community a degree of involvement in, and ownership of, the work. A community workshop was planned in the village to present the results and give the community an opportunity to express their views on the soil erosion issue.

GIS modelling of soil erosion:  Tentative relationships were established between soil erosion, terrain and land cover for the erosion plot and erosion bridge measurement points. It proved difficult to extrapolate these over the study area with the resources available. The original aim was to use land cover images prepared from the remotely sensed images and terrain images derived from the DEM to estimate erosion for the catchment, and from this, the effect of changing land cover and land use practice on soil erosion. More monitoring plots would be required, especially given the diversity of land cover.


  • Nguyen, V.D., Douglas, I., McMorrow, J., Lindley, S., Dao, K.N.T.B., Tran,. T.V., Le, H.T. and Nguyen, T. (2008) ‘Erosion and nutrient loss on sloping land under intense cultivation in southern Vietnam’. Geographical Research, 46 (1): 4-16.
  • Dao K.N.T.B, Le T.V.P, Douglas. I , Nguyen V.D, McMorrow J, Lindley. S, Tran T.V, Le H.T, and Nguyen. T (2008) Local knowledge and economic realities affecting soil erosion in the Rach Rat Catchment, Vietnam. Geographical Research, 46 (1): 17-26. 

Synergy of HyMap and digital elevation data (SHAC)

Synergy of HyMap and digital elevation data for the analysis of upland peat erosion patterns and composition (SHAC)

Analysis of upland peat erosion patterns


British National Space Centre, National Remote Sensing Centre Ltd, Manchester Geographical Society, The University of Manchester, Faculty of Arts.

Senior researcher


  • Dr Martin Evans (University of Manchester)
  • Dr Mark Cutler (University of Dundee)
  • Amer Al-Riochdi (University of Manchester)


Severe erosion of blanket peat in the southern Pennines (Figure 1) is a major environmental problem that requires mapping and monitoring at regular intervals. Traditionally, manual interpretation of aerial photography and field survey were used to map exposed peat and describe the erosion patterns, but are labour intensive and subjective. Hyperspectral remote sensing using sensors with many narrow bands offers an efficient and valuable tool in mapping and monitoring upland peat distribution and the composition of surface peat. This project aims to combine information from HyMap, a hyperspectral airborne sensor, with digital elevation data to improve understanding of peat composition and peat erosion patterns.


HyMap images at a spatial resolution of 3m and 5m (Figure 2, Figure 3 and Figure 4) were collected in the summer of 2000 as part of the SAR and Hyperspectral Airborne Campaign (SHAC) funded by NRSC and BNSC.

A DEM at 5m (Figure 5) spatial resolution was provided from X band dual pass interferometry. X and L band polarimetric ESAR synthetic aperture radar data were also collected.

Ground-based spectra (Figure 6) were collected concurrently using the ASD FieldSpec spectroradiometer, loaned from the NERC Equipment Pool for Field Spectroscopy.

Aims and methods

The data are being used to derive information on three components:

  1. Peat composition: Relationships between ASD and HyMap spectra and the degree of peat humification and peat water content are being analysed. From this, new indices of peat composition, especially humification, are being developed using multiple regression and artificial neural networks. Recent research includes the investigation of moisture content and surface texture on peat laboratory spectra collected using the ASD in contact probe mode.
  2. Vegetation and surface cover: Fuzzy classification methods are being used to determine the proportion of exposed peat and vegetation composition, both of which are important hydrological variables.
  3. Peat erosion patterns: Spatial relationships are being analysed between peat distribution, peat composition, vegetation and terrain. We are investigating the use landscape ecology metrics to characterise the spatial structure of peat erosion patterns.

Project outputs

  • Alroichdi, A., McMorrow, J.M. and Evans, M.G (2007) Laboratory spectro-radiometric prediction of peat decomposition: comparison of transmission, lignin-cellulose and other biochemical indices. RSPSoc07, Newcastle Sept 07, Poster paper. Merit award.
  • Al-Roichdi, A., McMorrow, J.M. and Evans, M.G (2007) ‘A decision tree approach to predict humification of organic soils’ EARSeL 5th Workshop on Imaging Spectroscopy, Bruges, Belgium, 23-25 April 2007.
  • McMorrow, J.M., Lindsay, J.B. and Liddaman, L.C. (2006) Mapping and encoding the spatial pattern of peat erosion. Final report, Moors for the Future for Small Project Grant No. A79419_spg_Man_McMorrow, July 2006.
  • McMorrow, J.M., Alroichdi, A., Evans, M.G. and Cutler, M.E. (2005) Hyperspectral remote sensing of peat humification. In, B. Zagajewski And M. Sobczak, Imaging Spectroscopy: New Quality In Environmental Studies, Proceedings EARSeL 4th Workshop on Imaging Spectroscopy, Warsaw, Poland, 27-29 April 2005.. Warsaw University and European Association of Rekote Sensing Laboratories, Paris. pp 193-204.
  • McMorrow, J.M., Alroichdi, A., Evans, M. and Cutler, M, (2005) Modelling the humification of exposed blanket peat with HyMap data. Poster presented at Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society (RSPSoc) annual conference,Measuring, Mapping and Managing a Hazardous World, Portsmouth, 6-9 September 2005.
  • Alroichdi, A., McMorrow, J.M. and Evans, M.G (2005) Estimating peat moisture content using simulated HyMap reflectance. (PowerPoint) Poster presented at Airborne Imaging Spectroscopy Workshop, Bruges, 6 October 2005.
  • Liddaman L, McMorrow J, Evans M, Lindsay J. (2005). Pattern metrics as a tool for classifying the erosion status of blanket peat. Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers Annual Meeting, London, UK, August 31 to September 2.
  • McMorrow, J., Al-Roichdi, A, Evans, M.G. and Cutler, M.E. (2004) 'Estimation of physico-chemical properties of exposed upland peat from HyMap spectra'. Paper presented at the 4th Airborne Imaging Spectroscopy Workshop, Bruges, Belgium, 8 October 2004. 
  • McMorrow, J., Al-Roichdi, A, Evans, M.G. and Cutler, M.E. (2004) 'Variations in upland peat properties: analysis of hyperspectral data'. Paper presented at the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetric Society (RSPSoc) annual conference, Aberdeen, 7-10 September 2004.
  • Liddaman, L.C. J. McMorrow, J.M. and Evans, M.G. (2004) 'Eroding blanket peat: utilising pattern analysis to assess areal and scale dependence of upland landscape structures' Poster paper presented at Remote Sensing and Photogrammetric Society (RSPSoc) annual conference, Aberdeen, 7-10 September 2004.
  • Liddaman, L. (2004) 'The use of pattern analysis to assess the scale dependence of upland landscape structures in eroding blanket peat'. Remote Sensing and Photogrammetric Society (RSPSoc) Student meeting, Edinburgh, 1-2 April 2004.
  • McMorrow, J.M., Cutler, M.E., Evans, M. and Al-Roichdi, A., (2004) 'Hyperspectral indices for characterising upland peat composition', International Journal of Remote Sensing, 25 (2): 313-325.
  • McMorrow, J.M., Al-Roichdi, A., Evans, M. and Cutler, M.E. (2003) 'The effect of moisture content and humification on the hyperspectral reflectance of peat' Scales and Dynamics in Observing the Environment, Proc. Remote Sensing and Photogrammetric Society (RSPSoc) Conference, Nottingham, 10-12 Sept 2003, CDROM, Nottingham: RSPSoc [Download PDF 290KB].
  • Al-Roichdi, A. McMorrow, J.M. and Evans, M.G. (2003) 'The effect of moisture content on peat reflectance: drying experiments using the ASD contact probe'. Remote Sensing and Photogrammetric Society (RSPSoc) Student meeting, Nottingham, 25 March 2003.
  • McMorrow, J.M., Evans, M., Cutler, M.E.J and Al-Roichdi, A. 'Towards hyperspectral indices of upland peat composition', Proc. NERC conference on Field Spectral Measurements, Southampton 15-16 April 2002.
  • Cutler, M.E., McMorrow, J.M. and Evans, M.E 'Remote sensing of peat erosion in the southern Pennines, Northwest Geography 2(1): 20-30.
  • McMorrow, J.M., Cutler,.M.E.J., and Evans, M.E., (2002) Synergy of HyMap and digital elevation data for the analysis of upland peat erosion patterns and composition. Final report to British National Space centre, and NERC for SAR and Hyperspectral Airborne Campaign (SHAC).