Grassland reseeding: Impact on soil surface nutrient accumulation and using LiDAR-based image differencing to infer implications for water quality

Emma Hayes* (Corresponding Author), Suzanne Higgins, Josie Geris, Donal Mullan

*Corresponding author for this work

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Long-term phosphorus (P) accumulation in agricultural soils presents a challenge for water quality improvement. P is commonly elevated in soils managed for intensive livestock production due to repeated overapplication of slurry and fertilisers. High legacy nutrient accumulations result in poor water quality via transport pathways such as surface runoff, subsurface drainage, and soil erosion. To achieve environmental water quality targets, improved management strategies are required for targeting and reducing excess agricultural P sources. Reseeding of old swards is known to improve grassland productivity and enhance overall soil health. However, soil disturbance associated with reseeding could have positive and negative impacts on other soil functions that affect the nutrient balance (including improved microbial activity, but also increasing the potential for sediment and nutrient losses). This study investigates the impact of reseeding and inversion tillage in addressing soil surface nutrient surpluses and identifies potential trade-offs between production, environment (through soil erosion and associated sediment and nutrient losses), and soil health. At a study site in the Blackwater catchment in Northern Ireland, we collected high-resolution (35 m) gridded soil samples pre- and post-reseeding for nutrient analyses and combined this with GIS-based interpolation. We found that decreases in sub-field scale surface nutrient content (0–7.5 cm depth) occurred following tillage and reseeding, but that this was spatially variable. In addition, the magnitude of changes in nutrient content was variable between P and other sampled nutrients. LiDAR-based image differencing indicated variability in the magnitude of soil erosion and sediment loss also at sub-field scale. Information on the identified deposition and erosion zones (from LiDAR analysis) was combined with mass wasting data to determine accumulation rates and losses of nutrients in-field and confirmed some of the identified patterns in soil surface nutrient content changes post-reseeding. We conclude that while inversion tillage and reseeding are essential agricultural practices, environmental trade-offs exist through potential nutrient and sediment losses. LiDAR-based image differencing was found to be a useful tool in helping to quantify these risks. Quantifying sediment and nutrient losses as a result of inversion tillage and reseeding induced soil erosion aids in understanding potential trends in water quality statuses.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1854
Number of pages16
Issue number11
Early online date4 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2022

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgments: Thanks go to AFBI (Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute) for access to BlueSky 2021 LiDAR data, OpenData NI for access to 2014 LiDAR DTM data.

Funding: This research was funded by the NERC QUADRAT DTP, grant number 2280708.

Data Availability Statement

No data are available due to the anonymity granted to the landowners.


  • reseeding
  • soil erosion
  • sediment
  • phosphorous
  • water quality
  • LiDAR


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