Holocene land-use change and its impact on river basin dynamics in Great Britain and Ireland

Mark G. Macklin, S. A. Foulds

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River basins in Great Britain and Ireland have been characterized by periods of hillslope and valley floor instability during the Holocene, reflecting sensitivity to both climate change and anthropogenic disturbance. In contrast to climatic controls, which have been relatively well documented, human impacts on and interactions with river basins remain unclear. There is now, however, a growing impetus to elucidate more fully the impact of anthropogenic activity on sediment supply and runoff, given that land-use change is thought to have exacerbated recent flooding in the UK (eg, the ‘Millennium'floods of 2000). The aim of this paper is to critically review the significance of Holocene land use on hillslope and valley floor stability in Great Britain and Ireland. The most widely reported impacts of land-use change on geomorphic activity include hillslope erosion and gully development, valley floor alluviation, river channel incision and elevated water tables. In the majority of cases, however, causal relationships are difficult to establish, due primarily to inadequate dating control. Even where geomorphic instability can be linked to land-use change, it is apparent that eroded material is often stored as colluvium, which together with evidence of diachronus hillslope and valley floor instability, raises important questions and identifies uncertainties regarding the dynamics and extent of sediment transfer within river basins. Such uncertainty has important implications for understanding how river basins will behave in response to future environmental change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)589-604
Number of pages16
JournalPhysical Geography
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • climate
  • Holocene
  • land use
  • river basins
  • sediment supply


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