Biogeomorphic recovery of a river reach affected by mining

Martin Dawson*, Angela Gurnell, John Lewin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
128 Downloads (Pure)


Environmental changes are impacting river systems worldwide. These arise from factors such as flood magnitude–frequency changes, direct human management interventions, inadvertent human impacts on sediment supply and fluvial regimes and landscape-scale changes in climate. Historical and active metal mining is significant in this regard. Here, we investigate morphodynamic changes within a reach of the River Ystwyth, Wales, since 1845. We analyse historical and contemporary information derived from maps, river flow records (1962–2021), metal analyses of sediment samples (1970s and 2021), ground geomorphological surveys (1970s and 1986–1987) and remotely sensed imagery (2001–2021) to investigate changes during a period of active metal mining followed by a century of post-mining recovery. During the studied period, an initially meandering river was transformed into a braided one, subsequently reverting to a single sinuous channel. Sinuosity reduced from 1.31 in 1845 to 1.09 in 1982 before recovering to 1.39 in 2019. Inversely, the braiding index reduced from a maximum of 2.0 in 1987 to 1.5 in 2021. Evolution in planform was associated with a change from expansive bar formation and avulsion under braided conditions to lateral bar accretion and associated bank erosion along a sinuous single channel. The initial 19th-century channel pattern and floodplain instability seems to have been related to mining sediment toxicity effects rather than a response to high sediment volumes, with recent recovery and channel style reversion being attributable to vegetation encroachment and biomass stabilization of the floodplain. Causal factors of recent recovery appear to be colonization by gorse (Ulex europeaus) in the absence of physical control measures and a reduction in grazing by the native rabbit population because of a disease-induced decline in their numbers. These results highlight the importance of riparian vegetation in addition to sediment balance and hydrological processes in controlling fluvial responses to environmental changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3497-3514
Number of pages18
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number15
Early online date20 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 12 Dec 2022


  • bar morphology
  • channel change
  • grazing
  • mining
  • vegetation succession


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