Gully Rehabilitation with Stem Cuttings



Similar names: gully plugging with stem cuttings, check dams from stem cuttings, brushwood check dams, live check dams

Gully rehabilitation with stem cuttings is an intervention that “plugs” gullies by building check dams made of tree stem cuttings, to control erosion and runoff. These living barriers are pretty efficient in slowing down runoff water and stopping the sediment that gradually fills up the gullies. Field research has proven that they work well in soils of sandy/loamy texture, where the performances of these check dams, made of tree stem cuttings, are greater than the ones of stone dams, due to rooted poles and the root system of the living barrier.

  • Water harvesting
  • Erosion prevention

  • Maintenance: to maintain the efficiency of stem cutting barriers over time, it is crucial to provide for their maintenance. This might require the thinning of some trees or shrubs (which will lead to the production of wood and fodder), replacement of dead poles and widening of the barriers where necessary. It is also good practice to regularly inspect the resistance of the check dam, especially after heavy rainfall.
  • The durability of the check dam is determined by size and dimensions of the dam, the site conditions, and the availability of suitable materials.
  • It takes about one year to become profitable: at the beginning there are higher costs involved due to the costs of establishment, which can be quite labor intensive.

Materials required:

  • 300-500 Poles
  • Seedlings
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Line-level
  • Tape measure
  • Axe
  • Machete
  • Shovel
  • Hoe

Steps of Implementation:

For this type of intervention, the most suitable material is stems with a diameter of 5-15 cm and 1.5-2.5 m long, depending on the depth of the gully. The cuttings are planted for half of their length and placed to form a semi-circular barrier. Dams are spaced according to the slope of the gully bed. Dams aim to reduce runoff speed and stop the eroded sediment. This way, the portions of the gully between the dams will fill up with eroded soil. In addition, over time the agricultural land that was divided by the gully will become reconnected, allowing the runoff to be further reduced.

In order to obtain the best results, it is recommended to integrate this intervention with other Soil and Water Conservation measures on lateral slopes, such as retention trenches or live barriers along the contour. Moreover, in order to improve the effectiveness of the stem cuttings barriers on moderate slopes, it is recommended to combine them with stone dams.
Click here for a good step-by-step.


Gully rehabilitation can be combined with crop cultivation by establishing level beds for crops in the following way: the check dams trap the sediments which accumulate. Then, whenever a layer of silt builds up, it is necessary to increase the height of the check dam by about 0.3m and so on until there is a nice accumulation of layers above which you can cultivate crops.

Other types of check dams include:

  • Stones check dams
  • Stones with spillways
  • Stones combined with intertwined green branches and poles

Here you can find a complete list.

This intervention contributes to:


Estimation of costs & benefits of the intervention
This example is for a 100 meter long, 2 meter wide and 1-metre-deep gully, with check dams every 4 meters, on the basis of one gully per hectare.

Establishment cost US $100
Labor time 50 person days = (50 people for 1 day) or (25 people for 2 days) or (1 person for 50 days)
Maintenance cost US $35/ha/year (for renew poles and labor cost)
Material cost 300-500 Poles (US $60), seedlings, wheelbarrow (US $10), tools (line-level, tape measure, axe, machete, shovel, hoe, (US $20)

Source: case study based in in Nicaragua, 2011

  • Click here to have more details on how to build check dams for gully rehabilitation.
  • Here you can find more details on gully rehabilitation with stem cuttings, also about the suitable species of trees that can be used.
  • Watch this video if you want to know more about gully rehabilitation with stones and intertwined vetiver grass.
  • Check dams can be built with different materials, click here to know more about their differences.

Additional information






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