Changing land use

Olympic park development, Stratford. Click to enlarge.
How does land use change affect the health of the natural environment (biotic and abiotic)?
How do people react to these changes?
How does this impact on the quality of the services that it provides?

Rapidly changing human activity within the Thames Basin can put huge pressures on the natural environment's ability to adapt and change. These may be further complicated by the influences of climate change, such as extremes in weather. Maintaining a balance between urban development and natural systems is essential to ensure that, for example, soils are still able to buffer potential contaminants or that ground stability is sustainable for buildings and infrastucture.

Whole-system approach

Understanding the full environmental impact of land use change requires a whole-system approach. This may reveal the potential for impacts of land use change on soils and the near-surface to affect deeper and distal parts of the system, including groundwater resources and estuarine habitats, i.e. understanding source-receptor-pathway at a range of scales.

An enhanced understanding of the legacy of land use in the region has the potential to support predictions and more effective mitigation strategies relating to anthropogenic contamination.

Establishing these links offers the possibility of identifying and addressing the source of potential problems, and more effectively managing those parts of the system that offer natural remediation capacity. Equally, the implications for engineered remediation of land and the restoration of natural processes should be taken into consideration.

Soils and the near-subsurface

Soils and the near-subsurface represent part of the natural environment that is susceptible to the most immediate effects of climate change. Understanding these combined stresses will allow FutureThames to contribute to predictions on the future of the services that the natural environment provides and make a direct contribution to a more sustainable culture of land use through better informed policy and planning.

More specific questions that may need to be answered:

  • Looking at contaminant variability throughout the catchment, to the estuary and into the marine environment, where are the contaminants coming from and where are they going? How do these sources, behaviour, fate and impact vary from one contaminant to another?
  • One major form of pollution affecting the Thames estuary is from treated, and to a lesser extent untreated, sewage. Can the analysis of sewage markers at the molecular level support water quality monitoring and help pinpoint sources of contamination?
  • How do changes in land use effect water resources and impact on biodiversity and can these changes be predicted in such a way that can constructively inform land management decisions and practices?
  • How can physical and chemical environmental impacts resulting from anthropogenic processes be quantified and communicated in the context of future environmental (including climate) change and its impacts?
  • How do variations in chalk-derived soil depth influence the migration of agricultural contaminants into the chalk aquifer? What is the relative importance of parent material mineralogical properties and geomorphology in controlling soil depth and formation?
  • What are the impacts of urbanisation on soil chemistry and quality? How will these changes — along with increased surface sealing — reduce the soils ability to ‘buffer’ or adapt to climate change? How do the levels of change due to urbanisation observed within the Thames basin compare to other urban soil chemistry datasets in the UK?
  • How can we model future mobility of contaminants and how will these be affected by climate change?
  • What are the geogenic impacts on air quality in the region?
  • What are the environmental, social and economic costs of ‘Not in my back yard’ Nimby style attitudes within the region? What might be the cost of a mineral development not occurring or being re-located elsewhere because of Nimbyism?
  • How can we avoid needlessly sterilising mineral resources within the region?

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