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ELSEVIER Geomorphology 14 ( 1995) 235-253

River channel adjustment to meander cutoffs on the River Bollin

and River Dane, northwest England
J.M. Hooke
University of Portsmouth, Department of Geography, Buckingham Building, Lion Terrace, Portmouth, PO1 3HE, UK

Received 24 October 1994; revised 26 March 1995; accepted 8 May 1995


Morphological adjustment of a channel after cutoff should be expected, but rarely has the mode and timescale of adjustment
in natural channels been measured. Four natural cutoffs which have occurred since 1980 on two rivers in northwest England
have been monitored from pre-cutoff stage. Two of the cutoffs were neck cutoffs of large loops; two were chute cutoffs in which
significant bend curvature remained. All the cutoffs were the terminal result of progressive bank erosion and/or scour of the
floodplain rather than overflow and all the cutoffs took place in peak flow events, though two of these were of relatively low
magnitude-high frequency. Rapid widening and sedimentation took place within the straight channels produced by neck cutoffs,
immediately after breaching. Adjustment was mainly by formation of multiple riffles and bars, producing a variable morphology
in the first 24 years. Subsequently, the morphology became more regular and in one case, had stabilised within about eight
years. Progressive steepening and acceleration of bank erosion appears to have been propagated upstream in one case, but in the
other cases erosion was very localised. Rates of vertical accretion at the entrances to the old channel were much higher than
most quoted in the literature. Rates of change in all morphological, sedimentary and biotic components exhibit an exponential
decline with time but with slightly differing timescales. On these active, gravel-bed streams major adjustment within the new
channels may be completed within 6-12 years though lakes persist in the abandoned channels for much longer.

1. Introduction importance in interpretation of the alluvial record. Very

few observations of cutoffs actually taking place and
Cutoffs and ox-bow lakes are some of the classic of subsequent adjustments of the channel have been
features of meandering rivers and are recognised as made, with notable exceptions, e.g. Johnson and Payn-
fundamental components of the floodplain of mobile ter, 1967; Mosley, 1975a. Information on the nature of
rivers. These features have been studied for both their channel changes within cutoff reaches and on the times-
geomorphological and engineering importance, using tale of adjustment are needed to help predict and under-
a range of empirical and theoretical approaches. Vari- stand impacts of cutoffs and to interpret past evidence
ous techniques have been employed to investigate their of cutoffs. Opportunity to measure and document these
morphology, stratigraphy and distribution including aspects of meander cutoffs has occurred from monitor-
historical mapping, remote sensing, coring and sedi- ing channel change on two rivers in northwest England.
mentological analysrs. Long term development has Based on the evidence of these case studies, the aims
been traced and various phases have been identified of this paper are:
and modelled. The ra.tes and patterns of sedimentation 1. to describe the processes and mechanisms of cutoff,
have received particular attention because of their 2. to analyze the morphological adjustments to cutoff,

0169-555X/95/$09.50 0 1995 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved

236 J.M. Hooke /Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253

3. to assess the timescales of adjustment of the channel each. They find cutoffs are most common in the middle
and individual components, reaches of drainage basins where stream power is also
4. to investigate the spatial propagation of the effects at a maximum but the relationship of lateral migration
of cutoff. rate or cutoff type to stream power is not simple. They
Much early work on river cutoffs was derived from also find, following Tower ( 1904), that neck and mul-
large rivers of the world where cutoffs are frequent and tiloop cutoffs occur on low gradients whereas chute
the abandoned channels often spectacular and common cutoffs occur on higher gradient reaches. Both Thomp-
components of the floodplain, (e.g. Fisk, 1952; Cole- son ( 1984) and Hooke ( 1991) have related frequency
man, 1969; Kulemina, 1973; Schattner, 1962). Much of cutoff to rates and level of activity in channel pat-
of this work was also stimulated by practical problems terns. The distribution of cutoffs within individual river
of river management (e.g. Matthes, 1947) and it was systems has been studied (e.g. Schattner, 1962) and
complemented by physical simulation of meander various geological and geomorphological controls
migration and cutoff formation (e.g. Friedkin, 1945). identified. The frequency of occurrence has mainly
Cutoffs were incorporated in early qualitative models been derived from dating of relict channels. Using his-
of meander development (e.g. Kondrat’yev, 1968) torical evidence from 14 Welsh rivers Lewis and Lewin
though there is conflicting evidence on the importance ( 1983) found that the average rate of cutoff altered
of inhomogeneities influencing meander migration from 1 per 5 years in the period 1880-1900 to 1 per 2
(Friedkin, 1945; Schattner, 1962). Cutoff has long years in the period 1950-1970 though the rates for
been seen as the end-point of meander development individual rivers were variable.
and migration, even in conditions of equilibrium, where Various phases of cutoff development and infill have
there is no long-term change in overall sinuosity. Net been identified and some figures, e.g. for phases of
decrease in sinuosity was recognised as different blockage of abandoned channels or persistence of lake
behaviour from increase and different causes therefore stage (Gagliano and Howard, 1984), have been
inferred ( Schumm, 1969). Mosley ( 1975a), in a case- derived. Timescales and mechanisms of adjustment to
study of a cutoff on one of the same rivers as studied artificial cutoffs have been the subject of some analysis
here, points out that cutoff is an inevitable consequence (e.g. Ching-Shen et al., 1978; Shields and Abt, 1989).
of bank erosion and meander progression and is there- Thompson ( 1984) followed in detail the sequences of
fore not an anomalous feature. He did, however, find a adjustment in chute cutoffs on a meandering and a
recent high incidence of cutoffs (Mosley, 1975a) and braided stream in Lancashire. Depths of sediment, par-
attributed this to allogenic factors rather than to normal ticle size characteristics and stratigraphic relations of
equilibrium behaviour. Johnson and Paynter ( 1967) infills have been more fully investigated than many
attribute the formation of a chute cutoff on the River other aspects because of their importance for under-
Irk near Manchester, to water piling up upstream so standing floodplain composition, floodplain evolution
that the water gradient was steepened and raised to the and alluvial chronology (e.g. Allen, 1965; Bridge et
level where the stream could flow across the lowest part al., 1986; Erskine et al., 1992). Johnson and Paynter
of the floodplain. Hooke ( 1991) and Hooke and Red- ( 1967) detailed the pattern of sedimentation following
mond (1992) have found a progressive increase in a chute cutoff and showed it was comparable with other
sinuosity and development of meander form over per- parts of the floodplain. Rates of sedimentation have
iods of up to 150 years on several channels in Britain been calculated, but mainly based on long term evi-
followed in most cases by a later decrease in sinuosity. dence. Lewis and Lewin (1983) found no relation of
These changes were regarded as part of the same rate of sedimentation to cutoff or river size but they and
sequence and can be interpreted as autogenic behav- other authors (e.g. Gagliano and Howard, 1984) have
iour. shown how pattern and rate of sedimentation are influ-
The position, morphology and mechanisms of cutoff enced by various morphological and hydrological fac-
have received some attention in the literature. Lewis tors. Palaeohydrological inferences on a range of
and Lewin (1983) identify five types of cutoff, with timescales can be made from the morphological and
four positions for chute cutoffs and examine the mor- sedimentological evidence of abandoned channels and
phological and sedimentological characteristics of some discussion of methods has taken place (e.g.
AU. Hooke/Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253 231

Fig. 1. Map showing the location of the study reaches on the Rivers Bollin and Dane, northwest England.

Handy, 1972; Weihaupt, 1977; Erskine et al., 1992; to 1975 of 2.3 to 1.3. Several cutoffs are identifiable
Gregory, 1983). The morphology of cutoffs and the from the historical evidence on the present reach but
occurrence of old channels within the floodplain has the evidence over 150 years is of an increase then
received particular attention on the larger river systems decrease in sinuosity (Hooke and Redmond, 1992).
of the world and recent developments in remote sensing Over the same period the Dane shows a net increase in
have enhanced such investigations (e.g. Philip et al., channel length of 10% but cutoffs have recently been
1989). more frequent. Both study reaches have been mapped
and photographed annually since 1980 and more
detailed studies of processes of channel change have
2. Methods also been carried out on the Dane. Four cutoffs have
occurred, two on each river, during the period of mon-
The Rivers Bollin and Dane are neighbouring itoring and have been observed both before and after
streams in northwest Ehgland to the south of the Man- cutoff. All the cutoffs were natural in their mechanisms
chester conurbation. They are both active meandering, and breaching was not affected by human activity. Each
gravel-bed rivers which flow westwards off the Pennine
upland. In the Piedmont zone, on the edge of the Chesh-
ire plain and fringing,the uplands, the courses of both
rivers include reaches of channel which have been
highly mobile historically. The river courses have
developed within their present valleys during the Holo-
cene, as indicated by a. series of dated terraces. (John-
son, 1969; Hooke et al., 1990). The catchment areas at
the study reaches (Fig. 1) are 55 km2 and 152 km* for
the Bollin and Dane respectively. The mean daily flows
are3m3s-‘and4m3s-’ and the mean annual flows
are 26.2 m3 s- ’ and 30 m3 s- ’ which also approximate
to bankfull flow. A reach of the Bollin downstream
from the present site was identified by Mosley ( 1975b) Fig. 2. Photograph of the meander neck, site Bollin No. 1, October
as having shown a net decrease in sinuosity from 1935 1980.
238 J.M. Hooke /Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253


Fig. 3. Channel changes at cutoff sites, (a) Bollin No. 1, (b) Bollin No. 2, (c) Dane No. 1, (d) Dane No. 2.

was surveyed before cutoff occurred then mapped 3. Prior conditions and cutoff events
intensively for a period immediately after cutoff then
more extensively over the longer period. A neck cutoff Site Bollin No. 1 is situated just downstream of Mill
(Bollin cutoff No. 1) which occurred in 1980 has been Lane bridge, upsteam of the town of Wilmslow in
studied in most detail. At all four sites changes in mor- Cheshire (Fig. 1). At this site erosion had been pro-
phology, location of erosion and deposition, position gressing rapidly in the adjacent apices of two loops
of pools and riffles, characteristics of sedimentation and such that by early November, 1980, the neck of the
progress of vegetation development have been moni- meander had narrowed to only 1.5 m wide (Fig. 2).
tored. The banks are composed of sandy alluvium and by that
J.M. Hooke/Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253 239

this case, a loop of high curvature remained whereas

on the neck cutoff an almost straight channel was cre-
In 1980, a high curvature bend on the River Dane
(Dane No. 1) was flowing against a bedrock and allu-
vial terrace at its apex (Fig. 3~). The banks of the
meander neck were composed of floodplain sediments,
about 1 m in height, and the neck was deeply scoured
with large holes between trees. A breach was antici-
pated and prior measurements of the width of the neck
were made. The neck had a minimum width of 11.1 m
Fig. 4. Photograph of cutoff site at Dane No. 2 with breach imminent, on 6 December 1981 and of 9.4 m in April, 1983, with
February 1987. the shortest distance between scour pools on the neck
in 1983 being 3.2 m. The cutoff took place in the winter
time seepage through the bank was occurring. Low 198314, probably in November or December. Bankfull
water level either side differed by about 0.3 m due to flow is estimated to be 30 m3 s- ’ on this river section
the gradient on the 275 m loop separating the two sides and four peaks of that value and above occurred in
(Fig. 3a). It was obv:ious that a neck cutoff was immi- December 1983. On the Dane, flows of 30 m3 s-’ or
nent so the whole reach was mapped by accurate land more occur 3-13 times per year so again the cutoff
survey on 8th November. The breach of the neck took appears to have taken place in a relatively frequent
place on Saturday, November 15th during the night. event. This chute cutoff shortened the path length by
The farmer heard the noise and had already moved his about 50 m and had a cutoff ratio of 3.1. As with Bollin
cattle from the floodplain. The flow was overbank and No. 2 a tight bend remained and floodplain scour was
the instantaneous pealk at the gauge downstream with still occurring.
a larger catchment was 33.1 m3 s- ’ which was not the
Downstream, on another bend of the Dane (Dane
highest flow of that year. It is a magnitude of flow that
No. 2) breach of a meander neck took place in 1987
occurs 2-3 times a year and was reached on at least 11
(Fig. 3d). This was a highly sinuous bend in which the
occasions in the period 1981-6. The breach occurred
neck had been narrowing: 13.1 m in 1982, 12.0 m in
at the narrowest point and decreased the path length by
1983, 10.8 m in 1984 and 10.6 m in 1985. The banks
275 metres. The cutoff ratio, defined by Klaassen and
of the neck were low and by February 1986 the surface
Van Zanten ( 1989) as the ratio of the path length of
was severely scoured. By February 1987 a small cut
the bend to the chord across the points between the
through had been made and the water on the upstream
same points, was 25.8 for the immediate loop.
side was poised above that on the downstream side. By
The second cutoff on the Bollin (Bollin No. 2)
occurred on a bend several meanders downstream. This 16th March 1987, the water was still contained by a
was a chute cutoff which took place on a long narrow thin wall of alluvium (Fig. 4) and this persisted on the
meander (Fig. 3B) with a broad compound head. On 17th and 18th though some water was pouring over the
this meander the banks were very low and overflow lip of the barrier. On the night of the 18th there was a
and scour of the floodplain was occurring in the middle slight rise in river level and the breach took place where
section of the loop. Thle breaching took place in a weak- only a slight barrier remained. The flow was not bank-
ness exploited by the scouring. It occurred in the winter full and had only risen about 0.5 m above low water
1985-1986, probably in an event in December 1985 level. The peak flow at the nearby gauging station was
when the instantaneous peak at the gauge was 38.37 19.94 m3 s - ’ which has a frequency of occurrence of
m3 s-l. A channel length of 212 m was cutoff and the about 20 per year. Like the other neck cutoff, Bollin
cutoff ratio was 5.17 for the immediate loop. A major No. 1, this one resulted in an almost straight channel
difference between this and the previous cutoff and in through the former bend. The cutoff ratio was 7.86 and
general between neck and chute cutoffs, was that, in the channel was shortened by 15 1 m.
240 J.M. Hooke/Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253

4. Changes after cutoff the point bar but there was little sediment at the ends
of the cutoff. A coarse mid-channel bar had formed
4.1. Bollin No. 1 downstream of the breach. The new channel was
slightly narrower than the older parts. An alder (Alms
Some of the morphological changes subsequent to glubinosus) tree near the breach was still on the right
the cutoff are mapped in Fig. 5 and are illustrated in bank. On 18th January 1981, the alder tree was in the
Fig. 6. Immediate changes which had taken place centre of the channel with erosion behind and an under-
within a week included deposition of a bar near the old mined fence falling in the water (Fig. 5d). A gravel
channel entrance and the formation of a riffle by the bar had formed near to, but detached from the point bar
bar in the old apex of the meander and a second one a upstream of the breach on the left bank and a long sandy
short distance downstream (Fig. 5~). By the 7th spit extended from there into the breach. Extensive sand
December a small sandy tongue was extending from deposits were present on the floodplain surface on the
Net Changes
- &mke&,a
- - - Tmlalive bank edge

- Bank edge, October 1994

- - - Bankw,ge,Ap,ill988 t-0

9th. November, 1990 23rd. November, 1990

18th. January, 1991 31st. March, 1991

J.M. Hooke /Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253 241

27th. July, 1961 5th. March, 1962

6th. March, 1963 11th. March, 1964

16th. March. 1965 17th. March, 1967

b 0 703 metms &

Fi8.5. Sequence of changes following cutoff at Bollin No. 1, November 1980-March 1988.

left side of the downstream end of the cutoff. Sand had channel bar downstream had become attached, was
been deposited on the mid-channel bar downstream. very sandy but unvegetated. By the 27th July that bar
Erosion was taking place round the willow (Sali~ had become vegetated and sand deposits to a maximum
cuprea) tree on the right bank upstream of the cutoff. height of c. 40 cm were present on the point bar and at
By 31st March 1981 the willow was beginning to col- the old channel entrance (Fig. 5f).
lapse, undermined by rapid erosion upstream (Fig. 5e). In March 1982 the willow tree was leaning into the
The point bar opposite was a large, low, gravel bar water and a large embayment or widening had occurred
(Fig. 6~). The alder tree had become sedimented into just downstream (Fig. 6d). A riffle and small shoal had
the bar on the left bank and very extensive sandy depos- formed in this widened part. Sandy deposition at the
its had closed off the old channel. The former mid- old channel entrance was very extensive and about 40
242 J.M. Hooke / Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253

Fig. 6. Photographs of cutoff channel reach, Bollin No. 1, (a) 7th December, 1980, (b) 18th January 1981, (c) 31st March 1981, (d) March
1982, (e) March 1985, (f) March 1988.

cm high. The alder tree was still at the edge of the new 5h). The deposits were spreading up into the old, cutoff
bar. The side bar downstream was completely attached, channel. By March 1984 the sedimentation at the cutoff
vegetated and had extended downstream (Fig. 5g). entrance was completely stabilised by vegetation.
Upstream of the cutoff bend erosion had continued very There was still a large mid-channel bar downstream of
rapidly and the upstream loop was now cutting into the the willow but the channel through the old cutoff had
terrace which it had formerly not intersected. A year become almost straight (Fig. 5i). In March 1985 the
later the main changes were that the terrace upstream terrace erosion in the bend upstream continued to be
had been extensively cut into with corresponding major very active (Fig. 5j). The mid-channel bar near the
deposition on the point bar opposite, only half the wil- willow had become attached and was partially vege-
low tree was left and much erosion had taken place tated with herbs though still coarse in parts. The point
upstream and downstream; a mid-channel bar opposite bar opposite was now highly vegetated with willow
the willow tree had enlarged and was vegetated (Fig. saplings as well as high herbs such as willowherb (Epi-
J.M. Hooke /Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253 243

lobium angustifolium) and was approaching floodplain stream and causing erosion. By November 1987 the
level. Sedimentation was extending up the limbs of the infill of the old channel was vegetated. The breach had
old channel though an extensive ox-bow lake remained. widened very considerably and the bar in the centre
These trends continued and by March 1986 the whole had enlarged. The apex of the upstream bend was being
cutoff section had become much less active and was eroded rapidly and a second riffle had formed within
almost straight and stabilised. Upstream, rapid erosion the section. There was still little infill of the downstream
of the terrace and of another bend upstream of that was limb of the old channel. In March 1988 the new channel
proceeding. Since then vertical accretion on the bar through the breach was much wider than the normal
areas in the cutoff reach has continued and is nearly to width with a complex pattern of shoals present. The
mature floodplain level on all bars. The young willows upstream infill had become grassed over and deposition
have flourished and are now 2-3 m tall. was beginning to close off the downstream limb of the
One of the most interesting aspects of the morpho- old channel. Erosion was continuing in the upstream
logical adjustments that took place was in the width of bend and a promontory had been removed such that the
the channel and in the number and position of the riffles. new channel section was almost straight. In April 1989
This seemed to be one of the most sensitive character- the point bar at the upstream end was sandy and active
istics. The position and number of riffles is shown on erosion of the outer bank of the upstream bend was
the map sequence (Fig. 5). Overall the pattern was one continuing to extend upstream. Within the new section
of multiple, irregularly spaced and variably located rif- were multiple, complex riffles, with three small bars
fles in the early phases then a tendency to a wider which were vegetated and a gravel bar downstream.
spacing and more stable position after March 1983 with Erosion was continuing on the left bank downstream
eventual decrease to two within the whole section. of the breach and the downstream limb of the old chan-
nel was still only partially closed off. By April 1990
4.2. Dane No. 2 one large prominent riffle was present, the three small
bars remained but the gravel bar had enlarged consid-
This is the other neck cutoff and was observed within erably and was attached to the right bank. The down-
24 hours of the cutoff ~occurring. Massive deposition in stream end of the bank in the upstream bend was
the upstream end of the old channel took place almost stabilising. The morphological pattern remained simi-
immediately and a large plug of coarse gravel filled the lar through 1991, 1992 and 1993 with the bars becom-
entrance, although the flow was not very high.The sed- ing more vegetated and stabilised and the vertical
iment comprised sand, gravel and cobbles, up to a max- accretion of the old channel infill continuing. By March
imum size of 140 mm diameter and the deposit 1994 the mid-channel bars with debris on that had per-
extended about half way down the old channel. There sisted for so long had been swept away and the section
was no deposition in the downstream limb of the old comprised a single major riffle and an attached, com-
channel. The subsequent changes are mapped in Fig. 7 plex-form bar on the right side downstream. Again, the
and illustrated in Fig. 8. The new channel was at first same pattern of adjustment is apparent as in Bollin No.
narrow, only about 3 m wide, though no flow was going 1 with most of the change being accommodated in
round the old channel. There was a riffle at the entrance width, deposition of bars and development of closely
to the breach and a pool at the exit and very strong and irregularly spaced riffles at first then a sorting out
secondary flows through the new channel. Erosion was into a simpler sequence with fewer bars and riffles.
continuing in the apex of the bend immediately
upstream. Within a month the new channel had wid- 4.3. Bollin No. 2
ened to about 6 m. ‘The embayment upstream had
enlarged and a large gravel point-bar had developed This is a chute cutoff which has been observed in
opposite. Deposition had extended in the upstream limb less detail than the other cutoffs discussed. Prior to
of the old channel with a veneer of fine material on top cutoff the minimum distance across the axis of the
of the cobbles. A large mid-channel bar and much tree meander was only 3 m and the surface of the low llood-
debris had been depo;sited in the middle of the new plain was scoured. By March 1986 the cutoff had taken
channel, forcing flow nearer to the left bank down- place, resulting in a still highly sinuous meander. Little
244 JM. Hooke / Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253

Fig. 7. Channel changes subsequent to cutoff, Dane No. 2.

change took place at first, only continued erosion in the bend prior to cutoff and this remained. A year later
apex of the bend and deposition on the point bar oppo- (March 1989) this island was larger and more vege-
site. By March 1988 a low, sandy bench-bar was pres- tated. The upstream limb of the old channel was par-
ent on the outside of the bend, along the breach tially blocked off with sand and vegetation, the
(Fig. 9). Some infilling of the downstream limb of the downstream limb was fully blocked off and the point
old channel had taken place but no infilling of the upper bar downstream had extended. In March 1990 the
limb. Erosion at the downstream end of the apex of the upstream cutoff limb blockage was complete, protrud-
new bend was proceeding rapidly and concomitant dep- ing about 20 cm above winter low water level and the
osition on the point bar opposite. A mid-channel bar downstream infill was nearly to the height of the flood-
had been present on the riffle upstream of the cutoff plain. The point bar had become vegetated. Sedimen-
J.M. Hooke /Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253 245

Fig. 8. Photographs of changes at cutoff site, Dane no. 2, (a) 19th March 1987, (b) March 1988, (c) March 1989, (d) March 1991

tation across the entrance of the old cutoff and around pletely separate and becoming highly vegetated.
the mid-channel bar upstream continued and by March Throughout the sequence riffles remained in the normal
1993 this whole zone: was completely sedimented with position for meanders and only migrated slightly. The
no separate bars pres’ent and a continuous bank line on pool was in the downstream part of the apex since filling
the outer part of the bend. The old channel was com- against the outer bank took place in the upper part. The

Fig. 9. Channel changes subsequent to chute cutoff, Bollin No. 2.

246 J.M. Hooke/Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253

Bank edge
o’i!.. Cobbles and gravel
:I -
‘/I, RNfle
““. GraS.3
0 Tree
7. F l o w
.UA D e b r i s

1992 1993
Fig. 10. Channel changes subsequent to chute cutoffs, Dane No. 1.

main deposition was initially on the downstream side the entrance (Fig. 10). There was still much water in
of the point bar. Chute overllow and scouring of the the old channel and only a few irregular and unvege-
floodplain continues in the neck of this meander and a tated bars in the upstream limb and no sediment in the
second chute cutoff is likely to take place in the near downstream limb. A year later the breach had widened
future. but was still narrower than the rest of the channel. Some
fine deposition had taken place in the upstream limb
4.4. Dane No. I but still little in the downstream exit. The main locus
of deposition was in the lee of the breached neck, on
This is another chute cutoff, which took place in late the left side. By February 1987 the breach had widened
1983, again leaving a high sinuosity bend. In April though riffles remained stable. Much scour of the tlood-
1984 the breach was still quite narrow with a riffle at plain of the remaining neck was occurring and much
J.M. Hooke / Geomotphology I4 (1995) 235-253 247

the neck and in the downstream bend apex. These

trends continued over the succeeding years with verti-
cal accretion and colonisation by vegetation proceeding
rapidly. By 1994 there was a massive zone of sedimen-
tation in the lee of the neck and almost complete infill-
ing of the old apex of the downstream bend. A little
water remained in the old cutoff (second channel) and
none in the original channel.

5. Summary of changes and timescales of

Fig. 11. Photograph just after second chute cutoff on Dane No. 1,
April 1989.

erosion on the banks downstream of the section. In Certain patterns and tendencies in mode and times-
March 1987 a new channel was cut by the landowner tale of adjustment and processes of cutoff formation
emerge from this evidence. Major differences between
downstream of the cutoff to try to divert the water and
neck and chute cutoffs are apparent. Shortening of the
keep it away from the rapidly eroding bank adjacent to
channel by cutoff obviously increases the gradient sub-
a caravan park downstream. A little water flowed down
stantially. The amount of change is given in Table 1
this new channel. This situation remained in November
but the figures for slope are through the whole altered
of that year. In March 1988 much scour of the neck of
section and not immediately either side of the cutoff. It
the meander was continuing and debris had piled up
might be expected that, with the steeper and higher
against the trees. The neck was narrower due to erosion
energy course, major adjustment would take place
on the upstream side. Much sand and gravel was depos-
within the section, including rapid erosion and increase
ited on the bars and there was a large gravel bar on the
downstream side of the neck. A large amount of sand Table 1
had accumulated in the apex of the downstream bend. Channel lengths, gradients and sinuosity of the four cutoff sites
Tree debris was present in the new channel. Some water
Pre- cutoff Post- cutoff
was flowing in the artificial channel and material had
been dumped on the e:roding bank downstream by the Bollin No. 1 (Neck)
caravans. By April 1989 a second breach had occurred Channel length (cutoff) 232 m 9m
in the scoured neck of the meander but at that stage the Channel length (reach/bend) 6Olm 390 m
new channel was very m-row and the entrance covered Gradient (reach) SKI1314 .002026
Sinuosity 4.61 1.05
in debris, possibly deliberately to try to prevent the
second cutoff (Fig. 11). An embayment had been Dane No. 2 (Neck)
eroded on the upstream, left bank of the neck and there Channel length (cutoff) 173 m 22 m
Channel length (reach) 200m 33 m
was a riffle at the entrance to the breach. The newly cut Gradient .OO2900 .017576
off channel contained a large gravel bar at the upstream Sinuosity 6.60 1.01
end but still some flow which continued on through the
Dane No. 1 (Chute)
artificial cut. The downstream side of the cutoff channel Channel length (cutoff) 81 m 26 m
was blocked off with sand. A long crescentic, sandy Channel length (bend) 157 m 94 m
bar was present in the apex of the downstream bend. A Gradient .001408 SW2636
year later (April 1990) the new breach had widened Sinuosity 3.51 2.08
considerably and the riffle was pointing into the breach. Bollin No. 2 (Chute)
A massive sand and gravel bar was blocking the Channel length (cutoff) 212 m 41m
upstream side of the old channel preventing flow Channel length (bend) 331 m 156m
Gradient .001750 .002333
through it and the artificial channel had silted up. Much
Sinuosity 3.45 1.97
deposition had taken place on the downstream side of
248 J.M. Hooke/Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253

the chute cutoffs there was much less change in riffles,

mostly because a riffle remained at the entrance and
exit to the breach after cutoff, but some variation in the
topography and depth of pools took place. It appears
that multiple riffles are an accommodation of the high
gradient in the straightened sections of neck cutoffs. It
has been suggested by A. Thompson (pers. commun.)
-n-m Accretion
. . . . . . . . . Riffles that close then wider riffle spacing could be related to
- Vegetation an increasing proportion of the discharge being carried
in the new channel as the old channel is closed off. The
nature of the closure, the timescale of the riffle varia-
tions and the sequence of flows would not tend to sup-
port that explanation at these sites.
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 Similarly the number and area of active bars is high
in the first two years but then decreases. In the case of
Bollin No. 1, no active detached bars were present after
Fig. 12. Rates of adjustment as proportion of total changes in six
years, Bollin No. 1 cutoff. 4 l/2 years. The peak of activity and variability of
morphology appears to be at l-2 years. The same pat-
of the path length to achieve a more uniform gradient tern is followed by width, and the two are closely inter-
once more. In the case of these neck cutoffs the sections related since mid-channel bars tend to form in the
were straightened and eventually stabilised. In the case Years from Cutoff
of the chute cutoffs they continue as meander bends 0 1 2 3 4 5 6
but show a tendency to a second cutoff.
Mainly using the Bollin No. 1 for which evidence is
most complete the proportion of the total change occur-
ring in the first seven years is given (Fig. 12). Most of
the changes had occurred in this period and the main Pools and riffles

processes occurring after that are vertical accretion and

growth of vegetation. In addition, the relative rates of .
adjustment of components and therefore the phases of
activity have been plotted (Fig. 13).
The number and spacing of riffles varied. Only two, Channel bars

widely spaced riffles were present after two months on

Bollin No. 1 but three, closely spaced riffles had formed Vertical accretion
by four months. After 1.5 years from cutoff the number
had increased, with a minimum spacing of about 3.5
Vegetation cow
channel widths, and that situation remained for two
years. Then an extra riffle formed again in the middle
Upstream infill
section but by March 1987 there were only two riffles
and these were at about 6.5 channel widths, very close Downstream intill
to the commonly identified equilibrium spacing. That
situation then persisted for several years, and the whole
Upstream emsion
reach appeared as a very low energy and stable reach.
Similar variation is apparent in the other neck cutoff
with a high number of riffles and variable position for Downstraam emsion
the first three years then a simpler pattern, though the Fig. 13. Model of timescales and relative timing of adjustments to
same degree of stability has not yet been attained. On cutoff.
J.M. Hooke/Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253 249

tial bar at the entrance to the upstream limb had formed

within two months and sedimentation was across the
old channel within 1.5 years. At both sites sedimenta-
tion of the downstream limb was much slower, partial
infill only being visible after a year and complete infill
by 1.5 years on the Bollin and 3 years on the Dane.
Rate of infill was very much slower on the chute cutoff,
Bollin No. 2, and downstream limb sedimentation pre-
ceded upstream limb. On Dane No. 1 upstream sedi-
mentation was rapid but downstream very much
slower. All the cutoffs had considerable heights of veg-
O- 6 8
Years since Cutoff
10 12
etated infill at both ends by 5 years after cutoff. In the
case of the two neck cutoffs and Bollin No. 2 deep
Fig. 14. Rate of vertical accretion in cutoff entrance, Bollin No. 1. water bodies remain though wetland vegetation suc-
cession is taking place in the ox-bow lakes. No water
over-widened sections. On Bollin No. 1, width remains in the original cutoff of Dane No. 1.
increased to its maximum at two years after cutoff, then
decreased and stabilised. At Dane No. 2 the width
increased to a maximum after a year and then decreased 6. Spatial propagation
more slowly. On all the cutoffs the actual widening of
the breach was not immediate but took place over a Given the alteration of distribution of energy and
period of several months. stream power caused by a cutoff and the increases in
Fig. 14 illustrates the progress of sedimentation and gradient (Table 1) which have to be accommodated, it
vertical accretion. At Bollin No. 1 the sedimentation is anticipated that effects could be transmitted both up
was very rapid at first and declined in rate. The plot of and downstream. This is to be expected both from the-
the height of the surface in the area of the breach (Fig. oretical analyses and from empirical studies of adjust-
14) shows a classic rate law curve (Graf, 1977). ment, e.g. to channelization (Brookes, 1988) and is of
Although the rate does slow down, vertical accretion particular interest here since it has been shown that
continues for many years. However, sedimentation to some of the new channel sections themselves have
nearly floodplain level is extremely rapid on these riv- tended to stabilise. The difficulty with this type of anal-
ers, being achieved within about 6 years at the entrances ysis, especially in such active streams as considered
to the abandoned channels. here, is distinguishing accelerated erosion rates which
Development of vegetation is closely associated with are part of the autogenic behaviour of bends from the
the sedimentation. The rates of both are dependent to accelerated erosion which is specifically induced by the
some extent on the sequence and size of flows but, cutoff.
commonly, the initial gravel framework remains unve- At the Bollin No. 1 cutoff, upstream of the cutoff
getated for about a year. Herbs and grass then come in section itself in 1980, was a moderately curved bend at
and vertical accretion by sand takes place though much the end of a nearly straight section leading downstream
of the sand accretion may occur before the vegetation from an old bridge. The historical evidence indicates
cover is dense. Willows colonise very quickly and are that the straight section had been nearly stable for much
visible as young saplings by 5 to 6 years and are trees of this century. Comparison between the 1970 O.S.
2-3 metres high within ten years. maps and the situation in 1980 shows little change
The rate and patte:m of infill of the old, abandoned immediately upstream of the cutoff. At the bend, the
channel varies with tlhe curvature and position in rela- maximum erosion rate in the period 1970 to 1980 aver-
tion to the new channel as well as the sediment supply. aged 1.25 myr-‘. In 1980 the low floodplain was being
At Dane No. 2 partial infill of the upstream limb was eroded and a terrace of 2 m height had not yet been
immediate and a complete barrier to water flow had intersected. Between 1980 and 1988 the rate was 2.11
formed within eight months. At Bollin No. 1 a substan- m yr-’ and the terrace, composed of highly erodible
250 J.M. Hooke/Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253

sands, had been intersected by the channel by March downstream of the cutoff was eroded after cutoff due
1983. Upstream, sinuosity gradually increased with a to the new pattern of currents through the breach but
new scar of erosion intersecting the terrace on the next there is, as yet, no sign of increased activity in the stable
bend upstream by 1986. After the cutoff in 1980 the reach. Dane No. 2 had the highest prior slope of the
section between the cutoff and first bend upstream var- four cutoff sections and the shortening produced by the
ied in form considerably, with changes in riffle and bar cutoff resulted in by far the highest gradient. Much of
configurations. An extra riffle formed in the section in the fall is still within the breach channel.
1983 and moved upstream in subsequent years such On the Bollin No. 2 section the gradient increase is
that it combined with the pre-existing riffle by 1987. It less than at the other sites. Again the bend is one of a
is difficult to tell what is the result of increased sediment sequence of very active meanders so increased or mod-
from the terrace being eroded and what is propagation ified activity is difficult to distinguish. Erosion is con-
upstream of effects from the cutoff. Given the stability tinuing at the apices of the bends up and downstream
of the prior period, the evidence points to a destabilis- and the locus of erosion has altered because of the
ation of this upstream section after the cutoff and that change in curvature.
the effects are still persisting after 14 years. However, On the Dane No. 1 upstream propagation can be
once curvature and erosion are induced then rates of more easily evaluated because the section upstream had
change/erosion often accelerate (Hickin and Nanson, been very stable. The section has been mapped and
1984; Hooke, 1987). Levelling indicates the gradient photographed annually. Documentation of the position
has been evened out in the reach in the period since of riffles and of erosion and sedimentation shows that
cutoff. This has taken place by a combination of head- there were virtually no changes in the section upstream
ward progression of the riffles and increase in path of the immediate entrance to the cutoffs until 199 1.
length of the upstream bends. Prior to that time, riffles through the upstream section
Downstream of the cutoff on Bollin No. 1 was a had been very widely spaced. The channel is confined
highly sinuous, simple loop impinging on a 4 m high against bedrock on the left bank and the section lacked
terrace. This is composed of clay at the base and various both active erosion and depositional features. In 1991
gravel and sand layers above. The maximum erosion two extra riffles were present in the section including
rate was 1.88 m yr-’ prior to the cutoff and 2.19 m one with a very prominent avalanche front but these
yr - ’ in the decade afterwards. It has been shown from appear to be associated with an adjacent major slide
much analysis of meander change that bends tend to and gullying of the bedrock wall at that time. There
enter a phase of accelerated growth and erosion beyond was no sign of transmission of instability upstream to
a critical curvature (Hickin and Nanson, 1984; Hooke, this point. Downstream of this cutoff, anthropogenic
1987) and it is possible that this bend was entering interference with the river and banks makes assessment
such a phase and may therefore have experienced rapid difficult. Erosion was proceeding extremely rapidly on
changes with or without the cutoff. There were no obvi- the left bank in 1987 and a caravan was nearly lost over
ous signs of an instability wave being propagated the bank in the floods of that year. In 1988 material was
downstream, the section between the cutoff and this dumped on the bank by the landowner and this has
bend remaining stable throughout the period after cut- effectively stabilised it.
off. From the evidence it appears that the effects of the
On Dane No. 2 the effects upstream are difficult to neck cutoff on Bollin No. 1 have been propagated
assess because this was an active and complicated bend. upstream and possibly also transmitted downstream.
(Hooke and Harvey, 1983). Erosion in the apex of the Similarly on Dane No. 2 some effect may have been
upstream bend did extend further upstream. There are propagated upstream. Erosion has possibly increased
no definite signs of a major destabilisation or steepen- on the downstream side of the chute cutoff on the Bollin
ing working through the section though the increase in but not upstream and a similar situation prevails on the
gradient and the absolute gradient at this site are much Dane chute cutoff. It would be expected that destabi-
higher than at the other sites. Downstream of the cutoff lisation would only occur if the steepening was trans-
was a long straight section which had remained stable mitted upstream in such a way as to increase velocities
over the historical period. The left bank immediately and shear stresses over the threshold for erosion. The
J.M. Hooke/Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253 251

thresholds in the sections upstream of Dane No. 1 and stream side of the meander. On Skirden Beck such a
downstream of Dane No. 2 appear to be high (as evi- cutoff initially produced a cutoff channel of very irreg-
denced by their long term stability). On the Bollin the ular form. Johnson and Paynter ( 1967) showed that
upstream section is alluvial and the much lower thresh- sedimentation in that chute cutoff was rather different
old appears to have been crossed. Relative erodibility from that in ox-bow lakes following neck cutoffs.
of bed and banks will obviously influence the nature of On the Bollin and Dane it has been shown that much
the adjustment and transmission within the reach and of the adjustment of gradient and energy appears to
curvature of bends upstream and downstream is impor- take place within the cutoff channel by modification of
tant but the sequence of flows may also have an effect. width, roughness in the form of bars and pool and riffle
Arguably, the release of sediment caused by excavation configuration. In the case of Bollin No. 1 steepening
of the new channel, identified by Thompson ( 1984) and destabilisation does appear to have been propa-
would not be as great in neck cutoffs as chute cutoffs gated upstream. The channel within the cutoff section
and therefore less shoaling downstream might be does not seem to be subject to increased sinuosity. The
expected. major adjustment takes place within l-3 years and the
Bollin section stabilised after 8 years. This pattern of
increased complexity of form then simplification is
7. Discussion similar to that found by Gregory et al. ( 1994) in anal-
ysis of impacts of woody debris and channel changes
Few other cutoffs have actually been witnessed and on riffle spacing.
described in the literature with which to compare the The period for what Gagliano and Howard ( 1984)
events discussed here, one of the few being on the same have called blockage, i.e. sealing off of the old channel,
river as two of the sites discussed here, but in a down- varied at these sites from < 1 to 7 years compared with
stream section (Mosley, 1975a) and some of the others the 2-10 years cited by Gagliano and Howard for the
being by Johnson and Paynter ( 1967) on the River Irk Lower Mississippi. The rates of sedimentation in the
and Thompson (1984) on Skirden Beck and Langden old channel and vertical accretion near the breach are
Brook in Lancashire. It emerges from the case studies much higher here than those generally cited in the lit-
presented here that the: period of erosion or scour prior erature. Using the evidence from 92 historically dated
to breaching but when breaching is imminent can be cutoffs in Wales and the Welsh borderland Lewis and
long, though rates of erosion can also accelerate prior Lewin ( 1983) found maximum rates of infill of fine
to breaching. The actual event causing the breaching sediment of 0.003-0.07 1 m/yr. Most other rates quoted
may not be particularly high, unlike in Mosley’s case, in the literature are comparable except those of Erskine
but the breaching is always associated with a peak flow et al. ( 1992) who, in three cutoffs created since 1949,
event. Even in these cases the actual breaching was not found average sedimentation rates of 100, 119 and 140
observed but the sedimentary evidence on the Dane mm/yr. The graph plotted in Fig. 14 has shown how
No. 2 is that massive sedimentation can take place very markedly non-linear is the rate of infill and therefore
suddenly and large material can be mobilised in the the usual rates quoted, derived from older sedimentary
vicinity of the breach. This is corroborated by the evidence, can be misleading as to the initial high rates
author’s own observations at Skirden Beck, in Lanca- of activity. Obviously, later phases of infill of the centre
shire, where a very large cobble bar was deposited up of the abandoned channel are much slower and lakes
against a freshly eroded bank. The cutoffs on the Dane may persist for decades. Another similarity here with
and Bollin also show that it may take several months the results of Erskine et al. which contrasts with most
for a new channel of full width to be created. This is other descriptions of channel infill sediments is the
perhaps surprising given the erodibility of the material coarseness of the deposits. On the Bollin and Dane
and mechanism of fonnation. It is similar to the situa- almost all the infill is sand overlying gravel and cob-
tion reported in a different type of cutoff by Matthes bles; very little finer material is present. It has been
( 1947) and observed on Skirden Beck (Thompson, found that old channels eroded by the present river are
1984); in these cases chute cutoffs take place by head- often more erodible than the rest of the floodplain
ward erosion of a gully or scour hole from the down- because the material is coarse and unconsolidated. The
252 JM. Hooke / Geomorphology 14 (1995) 235-253

morphology and sedimentation of chute cutoffs are Friedkin, J.F., 1945. A laboratory study of the meandering of alluvial
rivers. US Waterways Experiment Station, Vicksburg.
rather different from those of neck cutoffs as pointed
Gagliano, S.M. and Howard, P.C., 1984. The neck cutoff oxbow lake
out by Johnson and Paynter ( 1967). Similarly, Thomp- cycle along the Lower Mississippi River. In: C. Elliott (Editor),
son ( 1984) identified initially high amounts of coarse River Meandering. ASCE, New York, pp. 147-158.
infill of a chute cutoff at Skirden Beck in Lancashire. Graf, W.L., 1977. The rate law in fluvial geomorphology. Am. J.
Sci., 277: 178-191.
Gregory, K.J., (Editor), 1983. Background to Palaeohydrology.
Wiley, Chichester, 486 pp.
Gregory, K.J., Gumell, A.M., Hill, C.T. and Tooth, S., 1994. Stability
8. Conclusions of the pool-riffle sequence in changing river channels. Regulated
Rivers: Research and Management, 9: 35-43.
Handy, R.L., 1972. Alluvial cutoff dating from subsequent growth
In 1975, Mosley ( 1975a) wrote: “Meander cutoffs, of a meander. Bull. Geol. Sot. Am., 83: 475-480.
as important processes of geomorphic change, clearly Hickin, E.J. and Nanson, G.C., 1984. Lateral migration rates of river
warrant greater future attention.” Some work has been bends. ASCE, J. Hyds. Eng., 110: 155767.
done in the subsequent years but still not all that much, Hooke, J.M., 1987. Changes in meandermorphology. In: V. Gardiner
especially on the contemporary processes. Good data (Editor), International Geomorphology 1986 Part I. Wiley,
Chichester, pp. 591-609.
are lacking, particularly on rates and timescales of
Hooke, J.M., 1991. Non-linearity in river meander development:
adjustment. Care must be taken in generalising from so ‘chaos’ theory and its implications. Portsmouth Polytechnic
few case studies and comparability of processes can Department of Geography Working Papers No. 19,23 pp.
only be assumed for similar environments. Neverthe- Hooke, J.M. and Harvey, A.M., 1983. Meander changes in relation
less, the mode of adjustment of a channel has rarely to bend morphology and secondary flows. In: J. Collinson and J.
Lewin (Editors), Modem and Ancient Fluvial Systems, J. Int.
been followed over this timescale of 5 to 10 years. The
Assoc. Sediment. Sp. Publs., 6: 121-132.
cases discussed here indicate that final breaching can Hooke, J.M. and Redmond, C.E., 1992. Causes and nature of river
occur in a low magnitude event, that changes in mor- planfomr change. In: P. Billi, R.D. Hey, C.R. Thome and P.
phology within the new channel tend to be rapid in the Tacconi (Editors), Dynamics of Gravel-Bed Rivers. Wiley,
first 2-3 years with adjustments of width, bar and riffle Chichester, pp. 549-563.
morphology being particularly important. Effects may Hooke, J.M., Harvey, A.M., Miller, S.Y. and Redmond, C.E., 1990.
The chronology and stratigraphy of the alluvial terraces of the
be propagated upstream in high gradient and erodible River Dane Valley, Cheshire, NW England. Earth Surf. Process,
sections but the new straight channel created by neck Landforms, 15: 717-737.
cutoffs may itself stablise after a few years. Johnson, R.H., 1969. A reconnaissance survey of some river terraces
in parts of the Mersey and Weaver catchments. Mem. and Proc.
Manchester Lit. and Phil. Sot., 112: 35-67.
Johnson, R.H. and Paynter, J., 1967. The development of a cutoff on
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