Exploring adaptive capacity to phosphorus challenges through two United Kingdom river catchments

Lyon, C. and Jacobs, B. and Martin-Ortega, J. and Rothwell, S.A. and Davies, L. and Stoate, C. and Forber, K.J. and Doody, D.G. and Withers, P.J.A. (2022) Exploring adaptive capacity to phosphorus challenges through two United Kingdom river catchments. Environmental Science and Policy, 136. pp. 225-236. ISSN 1462-9011

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Phosphorus (P) is a critical natural resource for food production, but one that is subject to global supply vulnerabilities. P is also responsible for endemic eutrophication in waterbodies due to poor stewardship in the food chain. Catchments are natural social-ecologically bounded systems for P use in agriculture and water management. Stakeholders, such as farmers, water and sewerage service companies, local authorities, and environmental organisations mediate catchment adaptive capacity to P supply risks and P pollution in waterbodies. Adaptive capacity at this level has been insufficiently explored in addressing the P challenge, yet is essential to it. We address this gap by exploring through a qualitative study of stakeholders in two United Kingdom catchments. Our results suggest that the awareness and relevance of P-supply challenges is low in catchments, but the problem of waterbody vulnerability to excess P is of greater concern. Our findings highlight the roles in adaptive capacity of entrenched practices; knowledge and training activities and organisations; stakeholder cooperation and synergy; funding, infrastructure, and technology; the governance environment; and time needed to draw down P. We find that farmers and water companies are especially important to adaptive capacity as they directly interact with P flows. We therefore suggest that catchment adaptive capacity would be significantly improved through a well-supported, and expanded package of existing efforts such as providing scientific evidence of catchment P dynamics; training; payments; more empowered local governance. This effort would support catchment stakeholders to adopt effective P-stewardship practices within a multi-decade integrated catchment management strategy.

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Journal Article
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Environmental Science and Policy
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15 Aug 2022 11:05
Last Modified:
19 Sep 2023 02:50