Erosional effects of cattle on streambanks in Tennessee, U.S.A.

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The geomorphological effects of cattle on streambanks in a humid region, which have consequent potential effects on water quality, are examined. Field observations suggest that cattle are important agents in causing streambanks to erode, but so many variables are involved that it is difficult to isolate the role of cattle. Instead, an empirical approach based on long‐term controlled experiment was adopted along a small perennial stream in the Central Basin of Tennessee. The results showed that uncontrolled grazing caused about six times as much gross bank erosion as occurred on the protected control stretch. However, most of this difference was due to breakdown of banks by trampling and consequent erosion, rather than by bank scour caused by removal of bank vegetation by grazing. That is, bank vegetation alone did not appear to be a primary control. A relatively inexpensive grade‐control structure reduced the gross bank erosion by about 50 per cent. The rapid destruction of streambanks observed in this study suggests that reduction of geomorphic resistance by uncontrolled stock access to streambanks has been an important factor in the stream widening that has taken place during historical time in the eastern United States.