Sci Total Environ 2019 Jul 10;673:756-762. Epub 2019 Apr 10.
Department of Biosciences, College of Science, Swansea University, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK.
Artificial barriers are one of the main threats to river ecosystems, resulting in habitat fragmentation and loss of connectivity. Yet, the abundance and distribution of most artificial barriers, excluding high-head dams, is poorly documented. We provide a comprehensive assessment of the distribution and typology of artificial barriers in Great Britain, and estimate for the first time the extent of river fragmentation. To this end, barrier data were compiled from existing databases and were ground-truthed by field surveys in England, Scotland and Wales to derive a correction factor for barrier density across Great Britain. Field surveys indicate that existing barrier databases underestimate barrier density by 68%, particularly in the case of low-head structures (<1 m) which are often missing from current records. Field-corrected barrier density estimates ranged from 0.48 barriers/km in Scotland to 0.63 barriers/km in Wales, and 0.75 barriers/km in England. Corresponding estimates of stream fragmentation by weirs and dams only, measured as mean barrier-free length, were 12.30 km in Scotland, 6.68 km in Wales and 5.29 km in England, suggesting the extent of river modification differs between regions. Our study indicates that 97% of the river network in Great Britain is fragmented and <1% of the catchments are free of artificial barriers.