Professor Richard Brazier
Professor of Earth Surface Processes


Research interests

My research interests are in geomorphology and hydrology with an emphasis on soil erosion, sediment and nutrient mobilisation and delivery, water quality and landform evolution from hillslope to landscape scales. I take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding earth surface processes which involves field observations and characterisation, laboratory analysis, numerical modelling, use of GIS and remotely sensed data.

Research projects

Understanding the ecohydrological impacts of reintroducing the Eurasian Beaver to sites in England

Working across two sites in south west England, we are monitoring the reintroduction of Beavers to understand how they modify the hydrology of a wet woodland in mid-Devon and a catchment-scale landscape, the River Otter.  We are interested in the hydrology, water quality and carbon storage that Beavers, as keystone species within ecosystems, may alter, both through the construction of dams and canals and the felling of trees.  Early results from the mid-Devon Beaver trial indicate that Beavers may have a profound impact by increasing water storage and engineering woodland to release significantly cleaner water. The work is funded by Devon Wildlife Trust and the UK Higher Education Innovation Fund.

Building a national framework to monitor soil erosion in the UK

This Defra funded project (2013-2016) will establish a framework to monitor soil erosion at a national scale. The research will quantify the costs of such a monitoring program and build an evidence base for how effective such monitoring might be in determining whether the UK suffers from a significant soil erosion problem and if so, where this problem is most significant and how it might be monitored in future years.

Providing an evidence base for the restoration of Culm grasslands to understand impacts on water resources of southwest England under changing climates

The research will deliver understanding of the function of unimproved grasslands (Culm or Rhos pastures) in terms of their water quantity, quality and carbon storage.  The project focusses on six field sites across three Nature Reserves run by the Devon Wildlife Trust (Stowford Moor, Meshaw Moor and Hallsdon).  The work is funded as a partnership project between Devon Wildlife Trust, the EA and the UK Higher Education Innovation fund.

Understanding the effects of moorland restoration on hydrology, water quality and biodiversity

This work is based  in Exmoor and Dartmoor National Parks in the south west of the UK and is funded by South West Water, NERC/TSB and the University of Exeter. The research will establish an evidence base for the effectiveness of moorland restoration across Exmoor and at local sites within Dartmoor between 2010 and 2015.  The project involves a number of monitoring sites, where high-resolution sensor networks are deployed to quantify changes in water table depths, as a function of restoration (primarily ditch blocking) alongside fluxes of sediment, carbon and GHG‘s from the landscape.

Quantifying the effectiveness of a catchment-scale, ecosystem management approach to deliver water quality improvements

Whilst field or farm-scale management (often mitigation) to reduce the effects of diffuse pollution on water quality is increasingly popular, this project takes a more holistic approach to understand how whole catchments can be manipulated or managed differently to effect water quality changes. The work is funded by the National Trust and is based on the Holnicote Estate, land which lies within the Horner and Aller catchments, in Somerset, UK. The research sits within a wider Defra-funded Flood demonstration project, as part of the restoration works will involve both ditch blocking in the uplands and also lowland floodplain landscaping and the reintroduction of bunds and levees for water management. We will demonstrate the effects of these works during the 2009-2012 period, in order to learn how holistic management approaches impact on in-stream sediments, nutrients and aquatic ecology.

Modelling soil erosion with uncertainty
All model predictions are uncertain. This branch of my work explores how well soil erosion models perform against the best available observed datasets (and how uncertain those observations are also), in order to be explicit about the quality of model predictions and to improve process representation in soil erosion models.

The New Conceptual Framework for understanding soil erosion
Field and modelling-based research into developing new approaches to understand soil erosion from hillslope to catchment scales in the semi-arid, Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts of Arizona and New Mexico.

Biogeochemical Fluxes in Deserts of the US South-West
Ongoing work in the south-west USA (Walnut Gulch Experimental Watershed and the Jornada and Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research (NSF funded) sites) has been investigating the spatial reorganization of resources at scales from plant-interplant to landscape level, and the causes and consequences of land degradation.

Calibrating and validating the Phosphorus Indicators Tool (PIT)

This project has developed a GIS-based, national scale model which predicts delivery of P to water courses in England and Wales as a function of both diffuse and point source pollution.

Phosphorus Export and Delivery from Agricultural Land (PEDAL)
Ongoing work funded by Defra to develop a modelling approach which is both parsimonious and explicit about uncertainty associated with model results predicting P delivery in headwater catchments.

Grassland Sediment and Phosphorus loss with colloids (GRASP)
This work investigates the importance of grasslands in providing not just sediments (both mineral and organic), but also high concentrations of phosphorus and colloids to water courses in temperate grasslands.

Landscape evolution of the US South-West
I am becoming increasingly interested in how reductionist datasets and understanding can be used to improve larger scale problems, such as landscape evolution. This work is ongoing at the Walnut Gulch Experimental Watershed.

My research involves observations over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales and the development and application of predictive models over a wide range of temporal and spatial scales (from individual particles to landscape). Therefore I am particularly interested in questions relating to upscaling of understanding, dominant processes at different scales and the representation of spatial and temporal variability within datasets and models describing the landscape.

Research grants

  • 2015 Devon Wildlife Trust
    The River Otter Beaver Trial
  • 2015 South West Water
    Understanding the impact of moorland restoration on water quantity, quality and gas fluxes � Phase II
  • 2015 South West Water
    Evaluating the impact of the Upstream Thinking program on water quality and water treatment costs 2015-2020
  • 2015 James Hutton Institute
    Using aerial imagery to identify multiple functions and services from agricultural systems.
  • 2014 Devon Wildlife Trust
    Understanding the hydrological impact of reintroducing the European Beaver in the UK.
  • 2014 UK Wildlife Trust Strategic Fund
    Valuing ecosystem services from Rh�s pastures.
  • 2014 EU COST Action
    Connecteur: Connecting European Connectivity Research.
  • 2013 NERC
    Developing a biomonitoring tool to identify and quantify the impacts of particulate matter in freshwater ecosystems
  • 2012 Higher Education Innovation Fund
    Providing an evidence base for the restoration of Culm grasslands to understand impacts on water resources of southwest England under changing climates.
  • 2012 NERC
    Dissolved organic carbon in marginal peatlands: using 14C to understand the effect of restoration on DOC losses in shallow peat
  • 2011 South West Water
    Determining the potential of peatland restoration for carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation
  • 2011 South West Water
    Extended monitoring of water quality responses to moorland restoration in Exmoor National Park
  • 2011 Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science
    Understanding the response of shellfish to pathogen-rich, diffuse and point-source pollution in Scottish shellfisheries.
  • 2011 Wessex Water
    Understanding the impacts of moorland restoration on the water quality of Nutscale Reservoir
  • 2010 NERC/TSB and South West Water
    Understanding the impact of moorland restoration on water quantity and biodiversity
  • 2010 DEFRA
    Developing a cost effective framework for monitoring soil erosion in England and Wales
  • 2010 NERC
    Impacts of farm-scale ecosystem management on water quality in intensively managed grasslands
  • 2009 Natural England and Environment Agency
    Understanding the impact of sub-soiling on soil and water quality � Elbury Farm pilot project.
  • 2009 National Trust
    Determining the effectiveness of an ecosystem management approach to deliver water quality improvements on the Holnicote Estate.
  • 2008 NERC
    Combining radiocarbon and δ13C and δ15N analysis from a semi-arid, grass - shrubland ecotone to elucidate rates of vegetation transition

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