Picture this: the River Rother flowing eastward through the High Weald on its way to the English Channel. An archetypal lowland scene in the English South Downs National Park, with a peaceful river winding sedately through a mosaic of woodland, farmsteads and villages, all set against a backdrop of green rolling hills.
But things are not actually as tranquil and well-ordered as they might seem. The beauty of the view belies the poor ecological condition along much of the river. High sediment load is smothering the riverbed gravels. This is thought to be exacerbating pollution and degradation of the riverine ecosystem, threatening the ‘good ecological status’ required by the European Water Framework Directive, and increasing the costs of producing drinking water: a particular concern of South West Water.
There is much debate as to the proportion of sediment generated by erosion from arable fields, versus that caused by natural erosion of the bed and banks of the river. In part, this is because it is far from easy to determine the routes by which runoff and sediment leaves eroding fields and reaches the river. The connectivity of runoff and sediment flows is difficult to map and even more difficult to capture in a quantitative model. This is a highly complex research frontier1 – one where science struggles to advance.

For a number of years, the Environmental Change Institute’s Professor John Boardman, and a team of collaborators have been working on field-to-river connectivity in the Rother catchment. For news from this scientific frontier, come along to a lunchtime seminar hosted by Oxford Water Network at the School of Geography and the Environment. Professor Boardman will present alongside ECI collaborator, Dr Dave Favis-Mortlock, at 1 pm on Monday November 13 in the Gilbert Room.