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School of Geography

The hydrology, hydrochemistry and aquatic carbon flux associated with forest-to-bog restoration

Supervisors: Professor Joseph Holden, Dr Pippa Chapman (water@leeds, School of Geography, University of Leeds), Russell Anderson and Dr Nadeem Shah (Forest Research, Roslin)


This exciting new PhD project will enable a student to work on a challenging area of peatland management and hydrological sciences. Peatlands and forests are important components of the global carbon cycle. They often occur in headwaters feeding major river systems. Management of peatlands may influence river peak flows, baseflows and the water quality of the river waters. Many peatland areas have been afforested with conifers for timber harvesting. This forestry may have had major impacts on the underlying peatland including on its hydrology and carbon cycling. There is currently a new drive in some places to restore the peatland system following timber harvest. Such work is very novel and challenging. However, very little is known about how such restoration activity impacts hydrological processes including river flow regulation, water quality and the aquatic carbon flux from these systems. This PhD project, conducted in collaboration with Forest Research, will study for the first time how forest-to-bog restoration impacts these processes.


It is anticipated that the project will mainly focus on field data collection from sites in Caithness in northern Scotland. As such it will suit a student who is keen to do outdoor fieldwork with potentially long spells of field activity. Data will be collected from nearby sites with small catchments of 1-5ha under different treatments. These treatments may include mid-rotation forest, bog under low-intensity restoration (e.g. forest cleared 10 yrs ago), undisturbed bog and perhaps sites with different ages since timber harvest.

Measurements will be taken of the hydrological processes and peat properties within each site using experiments and a range of sampling methods. Flows from the sites will be gauged using dataloggers and rated sections of water courses. It will be important to understand the flow peak regulation function and the baseflow regulation function of peatlands in different condition. Water samples will be analysed for nutrients, major cations and anions, metals, pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity and temperature and the aquatic carbon flux will be determined using a suite of measurement techniques including a field logging spectrolyser (Grayson and Holden 2016).

The PhD project will also benefit from being part of a larger Forest Research project which is assessing the effect of forest-to-bog and forest-to-‘peat edge woodland’ land use changes on key ecosystem services. The work will have direct applied benefit and also provide data for wider assessments of ecosystem service impacts.

Non-academic impact

The partners, Forest Research, are the research agency of the Forestry Commission (GB) and Forestry Commission Scotland and they work closely with SEPA, Scottish Natural Heritage, RSPB and other stakholders. Forestry Commission and partners require evidence on which to base their land management decisions to ensure benefits can be understood and realised. The project is keenly sought by the partners in order to ensure that they can make sound future decisions and policy. Therefore the project has direct application and strong likely impact. The novelty of the work also means that the results have the potential to be internationally high profile.


This student will gain experience and training in

  • Planning hydrological studies
  • Working with land managers and other stakeholders
  • Field safety and first aid
  • Instrumenting water courses for flow monitoring
  • Maintenance of flow monitoring infrastructure
  • Sampling techniques for a range of water quality parameters, including laboratory analysis
  • Peat sampling and hydrological experimental design
  • A broad range of hydrological data analyses
  • Water-related ecosystem services

Necessary background

You will have a strong undergraduate degree in a relevant field (e.g. physical geography, environmental science, forestry, ecology) and a relevant masters degree (or equivalent experience).

Ideally you will have experience of using GIS and hydrological data collection or analysis and some experience of working in a laboratory.

For practical and health and safety reasons you will need to be fit, hold a valid UK driving licence and willing to spend long periods undertaking fieldwork. You will also need to be willing to spend some prolonged periods (e.g. ~ weeks at a time) staying local to the field sites.


This project can be applied for in conjunction with Leeds Anniversary Scholarship (LARS) funding. For further information, please click here

Examples of background reading

Acreman, M. and Holden, J. (2013) How wetlands affect floods. Wetlands 33, 773-786.

Anderson A.R. (2001). Deforesting and Restoring Peat Bogs: a Review. Forestry Commission Technical Paper No 32. Forestry Commission, Edinburgh.

Anderson, A.R., Ray, D. and Pyatt, D.G. (2000). Physical and hydrological impacts of blanket bog afforestation at Bad a’ Cheo, Caithness: the first five years. Forestry 73(5): 467-478.

Anderson, A.R., Vasander, H., Geddes, N., Laine, A., Tolvanen, A., O’Sullivan,A. and Aapala, K. 2012 Restoration of afforested peatlands  In: Restoring peatlands – delivering multiple benefits (Eds. A. Bonn, T. Allott, M. Evans, H. Joosten and R. Stoneman. British Ecological Society/Cambridge University Press, in press.

Drinan, TJ, Graham CT, O’Halloran, J, Harrison SS (2013) The impact of catchment conifer plantation forestry on the hydrochemistry of peatland lakes. Science of the Total Environment, 443, 608-620.

Gao, J., Holden, J. Kirkby, MJ. (2016) The impact of land-cover change on flood peaks in peatland basins. Water Resources Research

Grayson, R and Holden, J. (2016) Improved automation of dissolved organic carbon sampling for organic-rich surface waters. Science of the Total Environment,

Grayson, R., Holden, J. and Rose, R. (2010) Long-term change in storm hydrographs in response to peatland vegetation change. Journal of Hydrology, 389, 336-343.

Holden, J, Wallage, Z.E., Lane, S.N and McDonald, A.T. (2011) Water table dynamics in drained and restored blanket peat. Journal of Hydrology, 402, 103-114.

Parry, L.E. Chapman, P.J., Palmer, S.M., Wallage, Z.E., Wynne, H. and Holden, J. (2015) The influence of slope and peatland vegetation type on riverine dissolved organic carbon and water colour at different scales. Science of the Total Environment 527-528, 530-539.

Parry, L.E., Holden, J., Chapman, P.J. (2014) Restoration of blanket peatlands. Journal of Environmental Management, 133, 193-205.

Wilson, L., Wilson, J. M., Johnstone, I., Holden, J., Armstrong, A. & Morris, M. (2011) The impact of drain blocking on an upland blanket bog during storm and drought events, and the importance of sampling-scale. Journal of Hydrology, 404, 198-208, doi: 10.1016/j.jhydrol.2011.04.030