Rothamsted Research

where knowledge grows


Steve Granger

Research Scientist
North Wyke
North Wyke

In my post as a Band C research scientist I have actively sought responsibility, opportunities to develop my scientific career, as well as achieving my day to day responsibilities to projects. I have done this by being undertaking a part-time PhD, leading and co-authoring peer reviewed papers, presenting my work at international conferences, and attending training courses on management and technical skills. Currently I co-managing the Defra funded ‘Buffers Project’, working on a component within the current ISPG Theme 4 on tracing nitrate sources using 15N and 18O isotopes and leading a liming trial with a commercial partner and developing further research opportunities with them.

I am keen to develop my management and scientific skills and to this end I have attended the BBSRC Aspiring Managers course held here at North Wyke during 2009, attended the 2010 Stable Isotopes in Earth System Science, summer school in Gothenburg and I am currently managing an MSc student from Bristol University on his 8 week project investigating hill slope hydrology on two soil types using intact soil blocks. I am also ‘Officer in Charge’ of the freeze drier at North Wyke and I am also responsible for the annual site wide course scale and balance check and calibration. As part of my increased profile and role to promote the institute I was recently invited to give a talk to the British Hydrological Society at Exeter University on ‘Water quality research at North Wyke – past present and future perspectives’.

Over the last 7 years I have undertaken a part-time PhD at Cranfield university developing work here at North Wyke using novel tracing approaches to help understand better the sources and pathways of diffuse agricultural pollution. This was achieved in the first instance through ‘proof of concept’ studies at the Rowden Experimental Drainage Platform before being implemented in a larger agricultural catchment based on the our initial findings. I have used artificial fluorescent particles to trace the movement of agricultural slurry derived particles. These particles, which can have their size and density manipulated to mimic the particles of interest, have only previously been used in aquatic environments and this is the first time that they have been used in a terrestrial context. By mixing them with slurry and applying them to land I could show that slurry derived material has the potential to move considerable distances from their point of application into drainage and stream water. Further work with colleagues at the Centre of Ecology and Hydrology in Wallingford I have used ‘natural fluorescence’ to assess the contribution of animal wastes to drainage and stream waters by looking for the fluorescent ‘fingerprint’ of slurry.

I have undertaken training at the National Isotope Geosciences Laboratory (NIGL) of the British Geological Survey (BGS) in Nottingham on the isotopic extraction of both the δ15N and δ18O of nitrate. This training enabled me to carryout tracing studies looking specifically for evidence of slurry derived inorganic N in drainage waters. After an initial proof of concept study I secured funding for a follow up study through the successful application for a NERC Isotope Research Support grant equating to £29,400. I continue this area of research currently through collaborative links with both Dr Tim Heaton and the BGS and through links at Exeter University. I presented this work at the Joint European Stable Isotope User Meeting (JESIUM) at St Tropez in 2008. Related to this work I have used the δ2H of the water molecule to investigate the movement of water through heavy clay soil systems in through collaborative links developed with Dr. Wolfram Meier-Augenstein of the Scottish Crop Research Institute and Prof. Mel Leng at NIGL. These data were presented as a poster at the Stable Isotope Mass Spectrometry User Group (SIMSUG) in Glasgow 2009 for which I was joint winner of best student poster. Latterly my links with Prof. Leng has involved me with sampling for the ‘British Isotopes in Rainfall’ project, a project in association with The Climatological Observers Link (COL) and other selected rainfall observation stations, aims to map the variability in oxygen and hydrogen isotopes in UK rainfall initially over a series of rainfall events in March 2010.

Understanding on the sources, pathways and timing of diffuse agricultural pollution is still limited, but importance in relation to the issues of water supply (implicated in eutrophication of freshwaters) and efficient nutrient use within agriculture (food security). At my presentation of data from the GRASP (Grassland and Associated Sediment Phosphorus) project and my PhD to Defra (4th Dec 2009) it was highlighted by the attending funders that establishing these links was ‘the holy grail’ for the protection of water bodies.

I am keen to develop this area of research focusing on tracing approaches that will provide definitive links between pollutant sources and aquatic contaminants, exploiting new facilities being developed at North Wyke (e.g. the farm platform) and developing links with other researchers and novel techniques as well as improving existing approaches.

 In light of the new ISPG I would like to develop new methodologies for using the 18O of the phosphate molecule as a potential tracer for phosphorus sources, the ultimate goal to be able to make a recommendation as to the likely usefulness of measurements of phosphate oxygen isotope ratios as a tool for providing information on sources or in-stream reactions of phosphate in UK catchments. This work will be undertaken through links developed with Dr Tim Heaton, Dr Daren Gooddy and Dr Dan Lapworth all of the BGS. Once the extraction methodology has been perfected I would aim to provide measurements of the 18O to 16O ratios of the major types of phosphate inputs to UK freshwaters (sewage, fertilizers, animal waste and groundwater) collected from a small number of different sources under different conditions (e.g. differing sewage treatment, waste storage, etc.). Through this to determine if different phosphate sources exhibit 18O to 16O ratios which are measurably different from one another, and/or different from the equilibrium ratio for river water and if point sources with phosphate 18O to 16O ratios different from the equilibrium ratio for river water can be identified. This information will be of great value to other researchers, independent of the outcome of this project. I would also like to develop the dual nitrate isotope technique further here at North Wyke so that ultimately the whole analysis can be carried out on site, further to use this tool in a far more hydrologically oriented way. Currently such approaches are applied by ‘isotope’ scientists rather than hydrologists and as such then can be underused and unaware of the spatial and temporal variation of hydrology and pollutants especially in surface waters whereby ‘one or two’ samples cannot be realistically used to characterise a system. I would like to use the approach to assess then variation in isotope signal over a longer period of time and across a more diverse area to attempt to trace variation in nitrate sources through the different seasons of the agricultural cycle.


+44 (0) 1837 883 500 ext: +44 1837 883529
Rothamsted Research - North Wyke, Okehampton, Devon, EX20 2SB
Past Projects
  • Processes and mechanisms of the interactions between grasslands and water
  • Modular approaches to the control of diffuse agricultural pollution: Buffer zones, bioreactor, ditches and ponds
  • Buffer evidence base: Phosphorus saturation in buffer strips
  • The oxygen isotope composition of phosphate: a potential tool in UK freshwater studies
  • Taw River improvement project research partnership
  • Phosphate source identification in the River Camel catchment using 180-PO4 isotopic tracing techniques

Murray, P. J., Hatch, D. J., Dixon, E. R., Granger, S. J.,O'Prey, C., Stevens, R. J., Laughlin, R. J. & Jarvis, S. C.(2004). Transformations of nitrogen at the interface between the topsoil and an impervious clay subsoil. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution: Focus. 4. 45-52.

Haygarth, P. M., Bilotta, G. S., Bol, R., Brazier, R. E., Butler, P. J., Freer, J., Gimbert, L. J., Granger, S. J., Krueger, T., Macleod, C. J. A., Naden, P., Old, G., Quinton, J. N., Smith, B., Worsfold, P. (2006). Processes affecting transfer of sediment and colloids, with associated phosphorus, from intensively farmed grasslands: an overview of key issues. Hydrological Processes. 20. 4407-4413.

Granger, S. J., Bol, R., Butler, P. J., Haygarth, P. M., Naden, P., Old, G., Owens, P. N., Smith, B. P. G. (2007). Processes affecting transfer of sediment and colloids, with associated phosphorus, from intensively farmed grasslands: tracing sediment and organic matter. Hydrological Processes. 21. 417-422.

Bilotta, G. S., Brazier, R. E., Haygarth, P. M., Macleod, C. J. A., Butler, R., Granger, S., Krueger, T., Freer, J., Quinton, J. (2008). Rethinking the contribution of drained and undrained grasslands to sediment-related water quality problems. Journal of Environmental Quality. 37. 906-914.

Steven J. Granger, Gary Bilotta, Roland Bol, Patricia Butler, Philip M. Haygarth, Tim H.E. Heaton, Philip N. Owens. (2008). Using δ15N and δ18O to evaluate the sources and pathways of nitrate in storm event discharge from drained agricultural grassland lysimeters at high temporal resolutions. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. 22. 1681-1689.

S. J Granger, J.M.B. Hawkins, R. Bol, S.M. White, P. Naden. G. Old, G.S. Bilotta, R.E. Brazier, C.J.A. Macleod, and P.M. Haygarth. (2010). High temporal resolution monitoring of multiple pollutant responses in drainage from an intensively managed grassland catchment caused by a summer storm. Water, Air and Soil Pollution. 205. 377-393.

Granger, S.J., Bol, R, Dixon, L, Naden, P., Old, G., Marsh, J.K., Bilotta, G., Brazier, R., White, S.M. and Haygarth, P.M. (2010). Assessing multiple novel tracers to improve the understanding of the contribution of agricultural farm waste to diffuse water pollution. Journal of Environmental Monitoring.

S.J. Granger, R. Bol, S. Anthony, P.N. Owens, S. White and P.M. Haygarth. (2010). Towards a holistic classification of diffuse agricultural water pollution from intensively managed grasslands on heavy soils. Advances in Agronomy. 105. 83-115. 

Jennifer A. J. Dungait, Roland Bol, Elisa Lopez-Capel, Ian D. Bull, David Chadwick, Wulf Amelung, Steven J. Granger, David A. C. Manning and Richard P. Evershed. (2010). Applications of stable isotope ratio mass spectrometry in cattle dung carbon cycling studies. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. 24. 495-500.

Steve J. Granger, Roland Bol, Wolfram Meier-Augenstein, Melanie J. Leng, Helen Kemp, Tim H.E. Heaton, Sue White. (2010). The hydrological response of heavy clay grassland soils to rainfall in south west England using δ2H. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. 24. 475-482.

Naden P.S., Old G.H., Eliot-Laize C., Granger S.J., Hawkins J.M.B., Bol R., and Haygarth P. (2010). Assessment of natural fluorescence as a tracer of diffuse agricultural pollution from slurry spreading on intensely-farmed grasslands. Water Research. 44. 1701-1712.

Steve J. Granger, Roland Bol, Jane M.B. Hawkins, Sue M. White, Pamela S. Naden, Gareth H. Old, Jon K. Marsh, Gary S. Bilotta, Richard E. Brazier, Christopher J.A. Macleod, and Philip M. Haygarth. (2011). Using artificial fluorescent particles as tracers of livestock wastes within an agricultural catchment. Science of the Total Environment. 409. 1095-1103.

G.H. Old, P.S. Naden, S.J. Granger, G.S. Bilotta, R.E. Brazier, C.J.A. Macleod, T. Krueger, R. Bol, J.M.B. Hawkins, P. Haygarth, and J. Freer. (2012). A novel application of natural fluorescence to understand the sources and transport pathways of pollutants from livestock farming in small headwater catchments. Science of the Total Environment. 417-418. 169-182. 

Glendell, M., Granger, S. J., Bol, R. and Brazier, R. E. (2013). Quantifying the spatial variability of soil physical and chemical properties in relation to mitigation of diffuse water pollution. Geoderma. 214/215. 25-41.

Yuan, H.M., Blackwell, M., McGrath, S., George, T.S., Granger, S.H., Hawkins, J.M.B., Dunham, S., Shen, J.B., (2016). Morphological responses of wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) roots to phosphorus supply in two contrasting soils. J. Agric. Sci. 154(1), 98-108.

Granger, S.J., Harris, P., Peukert, S., Guo, R., Tamburini, F., Blackwell, M.S.A.,Howden, N.J.K., McGrath, S. (2017). Phosphate stable oxygen isotope variability within a temperate agricultural soil. Geoderma. 285, 64-75.

Granger, S.J., Heaton, T.H.E., Pfahler, V., Blackwell, M.S.A., Yuan, H.M., Collins, A.L. (2017). The oxygen isotopic composition of phosphate in river water and its potential sources in the Upper River Taw catchment, UK. Sci. T. Env. 574, 680-690.







PhD in Using tracers to improve understanding of sources and pathways of agricultural diffuse pollution (Cranfield University)


BSc in Geological Sciences (Oxford Brookes University)