Relative risk of surface water pollution by E. coli derived from faeces of grazing animals compared to slurry application

A. J.A. Vinten*, J. T. Douglas, D. R. Lewis, M. N. Aitken, D. R. Fenlon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines some of the factors that influence the relative risk of Escherichia coli pollution of surface waters from grazing animals compared to cattle slurry application. Drainage water from pipe-drained plots grazed with sheep (16 sheep + lambs per hectare) from 29 May to 17 July 2002 had average E. coli counts of 11 c.f.u. mL-1 or 0.4% of estimated E. coli inputs over the grazing period. Drainage water from plots on the same site treated with cattle slurry (36 m3 ha-1 on 29 May 2002) had lower average E. coli counts of 5 c.f.u. mL-1 or 0.03% of estimated faecal input. Sheep (16 lambs per hectare) grazing under cooler, moister conditions from 24 September to 3 December 2001 gave drainage water with much higher average E. coli counts of 282 c.f.u. mL-1 or 8.2% of estimated input, which is more than twice the average E. coli counts previously reported under such conditions (Vinten et al. 2002 Soil Use and Management 18, 1-9). Laboratory studies of runoff from soil slabs after slurry application showed that the mobility of E. coli in surface soil decreased with time, suggesting that increased attachment to soil or migration to 'immobile' water also provides at least part of the physical explanation for the relatively higher risk of pollution from grazing animals compared with slurry. Sampling for E. coli in field drainflow and in streamwater during a storm event in the predominantly dairy Cessnock Water catchment, Ayrshire, Scotland supported the hypothesis that E. coli transport is linked to grazing animals. For a 7-mm rainfall event, roughly 14% of the estimated daily input from grazing livestock was transported to the river, even though little slurry spreading had occurred in the catchment in the previous month. Spot sampling of field drains in grazed fields and silage fields in the same catchment also showed that grazing animals were the principal source of E. coli and faecal streptococci.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-22
Number of pages10
JournalSoil Use and Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPrint publication - 1 Mar 2004


  • Bathing waters
  • Drainage
  • E. coli
  • Grazing animals
  • Risk assessment
  • Runoff
  • Slurry


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