Land use and climate change can impact water quality in agricultural catchments. The objectives were to assess long-term monitoring data to quantify changes to the thermal growing season length, investigate farmer adaptations to this and examine these and other factors in relation to total nitrogen and nitrate water concentrations. Data (1991-2017) from seven small Norwegian agricultural catchments were analysed using Mann-Kendall Trend Tests, Pearson correlation and a linear mixed model. The growing season length increased significantly in four of seven catchments. In catchments with cereal production, the increased growing season length corresponded to a reduction in nitrogen concentrations, but there was no such relationship in grassland catchments. In one cereal catchment, a significant correlation was found between the start of sowing and start of the thermal growing season. Understanding the role of the growing season and other factors can provide additional insight into processes and land use choices taking place in agricultural catchments.
Reference conditions of water bodies are defined as the natural or minimal anthropogenically disturbed state. We compared the methods for determining total phosphorus and total nitrogen concentrations in rivers in Finland, Norway and Sweden as well as the established reference conditions and evaluated the possibility for transfer and harmonisation of methods. We found that both methods and values differed, especially for lowland rivers with a high proportion of agriculture in the catchment. Since Denmark has not yet set reference conditions for rivers, two of the Nordic methods were tested for Danish conditions. We conclude that some of the established methods are promising but that further development is required. We moreover argue that harmonisation of reference conditions is needed to obtain common benchmarks for assessing the impacts of current and future land use changes on water quality.