Top Soil Conference

31st October - 2nd November


Topsoil Conference 

The Wear Rivers Trust, in partnership with Northumbrian Water & The Institute of Hazzard, Risk and Resilience (DU), will be hosting the biannual Topsoil Conference at Durham University, Wed 31st Oct to Fri 2nd of Nov 2018.

The event will draw together delegates from 16 pilots from 5 countries to focus on the top 30m of the ground, specifically the connections between surface and groundwaters. The overall project aims to improve water quality and quantity while providing environmental, financial and human benefits. The Durham conference will concentrate on agricultural diffuse pollution and highlight methods of retaining valuable nutrients within the topsoil, rather than be allowed to percolate down into groundwater sources.

Durham Topsoil Conference Itinerary

Top Soil

What is Top Soil?

TOPSOIL is a EU cooperation supported by the Interreg VB North Sea Region programme: "Sustainable North Sea Region, protecting against climate change and preserving the environment." The project will be working on the improvement of water quality and quantity, while supporting environmental, financial and human benefits. Special interest will be paid to surface and ground water connectivity and its implication for water resource protection and management.

Hawthorn Dene

The Hawthorn Dene is an ephemeral stream, only existing for a short period following a precipitation event. According to the Water Framework Directive (WFD), all surface and ground water bodies are required to achieve the ‘good’ status by 2027. However, the Hawthorn Dene currently falls below the good status for its hydrology and ecological status. Although the groundwater’s poor status is currently not due to the Hawthorn catchment, the ‘leaky’ nature of the Hawthorn Dene coupled with the likely increases in storminess due to climate change has led to the thought that the Hawthorn Catchment may provide a pollution pathway to the groundwater. There are both natural and anthropogenic pressures existing in the area of the Hawthorn Catchment, these include: water authority sewage treatment works discharges, water authority groundwater abstractions, Coal Authority abstractions and Agriculture. The Trust is working in collaboration with the EA to update the current WFD report which will be condensed for public consumption through the Storymap project.

Story Maps

One of the main outputs from the Hawthorn Dene investigation was an updated WFD report for the catchment. This document is highly technical and can be difficult for the general public to understand and therefore the Storymap project was conceived. The interactive web resource utilises data/research obtained through the Hawthorn Dene investigation as an initial trial for the project, with an end goal of simplifying a complex report for public viewing.  The online resource allows the reader to go into as much detail as they require about the catchments recent WFD investigation, all while guiding the viewer through an interactive ‘story’. The project is in the process of being reviewed by partners and will be integrated into the Trust’s website when finalised. 

Cut Throat Dene

Building upon research conducted in 2017 at an analogous catchment (Hawthorn Dene), investigations at Cut Throat Dene (CTD) are in process of identifying connections between the CTD and a nearby public water supply at Fulwell pumping station. The CTD is ephemeral and is suspected to be losing to groundwater through sinkholes and fractures within the Upper Magnesian Limestone. Water chemistry analysis is currently being undertaken by the WRT & NW to identify any risk of degradation of water quality abstracted at the Fulwell borehole due to the connection of Boldon Flatts to the Cut Throat Dene in 2017. 

Magnesian Limestone Rural Diffuse Project


The MLRDP has been developed to provide farmers within the Magnesian Limestone aquifer area advice and guidance to help them protect surface and groundwater resources. Advisory visits identify opportunities whereby valuable nutrients can be retained and utilised around the farm instead of being lost through groundwater leaching and runoff; providing long term benefits for the businesses, improving long term farm resilience and whilst protecting the environment. The project focusses on the Magnesian Limestone aquifer which extends from Darlington, north through the Skerne catchment and Hartlepool areas, up to Sunderland in the Wear catchment. The aquifer covers an area of approximately 476km2 and is designated as Nitrate Vulnerable and a drinking water protection zone. The aquifer is used for strategic public and private water supplies and provides baseline flows for local surface watercourses. Under the Water Framework Directive (WFD) it is classified as being of poor status due to excess nitrates from agriculture. The focus area for this year’s project is within the north-west part of the aquifer where superficial drift (soil depth) is less than 5m deep. Free draining sandy soils, geological fractures and leaky streams act as pathways for water carrying expensive agricultural fertilisers and nutrients directly into the aquifer. 

A total of six farms will be invited to participate in the project. Following completion of farm visits proposed interventions which require capital investment will be costed, ranked and considered for funding when opportunities arise. Interventions will need to demonstrate good value for money and guaranteed environmental benefits.

PhD Research

Work continues by 2 PhD researchers from Durham University. Rebecca Smith is currently investigating Integrated River Evaluation for Management (IREM) on the Twizell Burn, Stanley. The project seeks to integrate factors affecting surface water (SW) and groundwater (GW) connections to better inform management interventions of local water resources impacted by multi-threats. This approach has been established to better manage water resources to meet standards (e.g. WFD; 2000/60/EC); a holistic assessment of the system behaviour and connections is required to deal with contemporary fluvial challenges (Brunner et al., 2017). Meanwhile Victoria Smith continues her research into the “Analysis of the current state of water-resource management in the UK using social network analysis and agent-based modelling”. The research focuses on communication between all partners within a project, problems that arise and hopes to highlight the strengths of the catchment-based approach. Analysis will produce a sociogram which will highlight key personnel links within the Topsoil project, as well as investigating issues that may arise when key stakeholders are removed from a project.