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Nutrient loss and water quality under extensive grazing in the upper Burdekin river catchment, North Queensland

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O'Reagain, P. J., Brodie, J., Fraser, G., Bushell, J.J., Holloway, C. H., Faithful, J.W. and Haynes, D. (2005) Nutrient loss and water quality under extensive grazing in the upper Burdekin river catchment, North Queensland. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 51 (1-4). pp. 37-50.


Article Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2004.10.023


Increased sediment and nutrient losses resulting from unsustainable grazing management in the Burdekin River catchment are major threats to water quality in the Great Barrier Reef Lagoon. To test the effects of grazing management on soil and nutrient loss, five 1 ha mini-catchments were established in 1999 under different grazing strategies on a sedimentary landscape near Charters Towers. Reference samples were also collected from watercourses in the Burdekin catchment during major flow events.Soil and nutrient loss were relatively low across all grazing strategies due to a combination of good cover, low slope and low rainfall intensities. Total soil loss varied from 3 to 20 kg haˉ¹ per event while losses of N and P ranged from 10 to 1900 g haˉ¹ and from 1 to 71 g haˉ¹ per event respectively. Water quality of runoff was considered moderate across all strategies with relatively low levels of total suspended sediment (range: 8-1409 mg lˉ¹), total N (range: 101-4000 ug lˉ¹) and total P (range: 14-609 ug lˉ¹). However, treatment differences are likely to emerge with time as the impacts of the different grazing strategies on land condition become more apparent.Samples collected opportunistically from rivers and creeks during flow events displayed significantly higher levels of total suspended sediment (range: 10-6010 mg lˉ¹), total N (range: 650-6350 ug lˉ¹) and total P (range: 50-1500 ug lˉ¹) than those collected at the grazing trial. These differences can largely be attributed to variation in slope, geology and cover between the grazing trial and different catchments. In particular, watercourses draining hillier, grano-diorite landscapes with low cover had markedly higher sediment and nutrient loads compared to those draining flatter, sedimentary landscapes.These preliminary data suggest that on relatively flat, sedimentary landscapes, extensive cattle grazing is compatible with achieving water quality targets, provided high levels of ground cover are maintained. In contrast, sediment and nutrient loss under grazing on more erodable land types is cause for serious concern. Long-term empirical research and monitoring will be essential to quantify the impacts of changed land management on water quality in the spatially and temporally variable Burdekin River catchment.

Item Type:Article
Business groups:Animal Science
Additional Information:© Crown Copyright.
Keywords:Extensive grazing; nitrogen; phosphorus; sediment loss; water quality; pastures; Great Barrier Reef.
Subjects:Animal culture > Rangelands. Range management. Grazing
Agriculture > Agriculture (General) > Soil conservation and protection
Live Archive:07 Feb 2012 07:06
Last Modified:10 Jul 2023 01:37

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