Estimation of nitrogen budgets for contrasting catchments at the landscape scale

E Vogt, CF Braban, U Dragosits, MR Theobald, MF Billett, AJ Dore, YS Tang, N van Dijk, RM Rees, C Mcdonald, S Murray, UM Skiba, M Sutton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


A comprehensive assessment of nitrogen (N) flows at the landscape scale is fundamental to understand spatial interactions in the N cascade and to inform the development of locally optimised N management strategies. To explore these interactions, complete N budgets were estimated for two contrasting hydrological catchments (dominated by agricultural grassland vs. semi-natural peat-dominated moorland), forming part of an intensively studied landscape in southern Scotland. Local scale atmospheric dispersion modelling and detailed farm and field inventories provided high resolution estimations of input fluxes. Direct agricultural inputs (i.e. grazing excreta, N2 fixation, organic and synthetic fertiliser) accounted for most of the catchment N inputs, representing 82% in the grassland and 62% in the moorland catchment, while atmospheric deposition made a significant contribution, particularly in the moorland catchment, contributing 38% of the N inputs. The estimated catchment N budgets highlighted areas of key uncertainty, particularly N2 exchange and stream N export. The resulting N balances suggest that the study catchments have a limited capacity to store N within soils, vegetation and groundwater. The “catchment N retention”, i.e. the amount of N which is either stored within the catchment or lost through atmospheric emissions, was estimated to be 13% of the net anthropogenic input in the moorland and 61% in the grassland catchment. These values contrast with regional scale estimates: Catchment retentions of net anthropogenic input estimated within Europe at the regional scale range from 50% to 90 %, with an average of 82% (Billen et al., 2011). This study emphasises the need for detailed budget analyses to identify the N status of European landscapes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8989 - 9028
Number of pages40
Publication statusFirst published - 2012

Bibliographical note



  • Catchment
  • Nitrogen
  • Nitrogen budget


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