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A strategic programme for NERC Lowland catchment research
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The significance of plants

LOCAR scientists showed that plants are the engineers of a healthy river. Plants influence the speed of the current, where sediments are deposited and eroded, where nutrients are recycled and where the animals of the river live. Faster currents between dense patches of water weeds can clean silt from river bed gravels. Where plants slow the current down, plant debris, organic and mineral particles are deposited.

As a result, new bed and bank forms develop, new plants germinate and grow, and hotspots for processing organic matter are created. Sensitive management of vegetation in the river and on its banks is therefore critical for a complex and healthy habitat in lowland rivers.

Land plants are also important for rivers. LOCAR research showed that different types of plant cover in the catchment have a big effect on the amount of rainfall reaching a river. Using new methods developed by LOCAR (combining direct local measurements with satellite data), we found that much more rainwater evaporates from fields of grass and clover than from fields of wheat, for instance.

Hedges, especially hawthorn, intercept and evaporate more than half of the rain that falls on them, and woodlands and wetlands also affect the amount of rain that gets into the rivers and the ground. This information will be important in estimating how much rainfall is needed to recharge groundwater.

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