Abstract The motion of sand particles close to a single moving blade was investigated using Positron Emission Particle Tracking (PEPT) during the period in which the free bed surface profile was evolving to an equilibrium shape. The area affected by the blade was divided into active and inactive regions and these were analysed separately. The characteristic heart-shape of the active region in the plan view was determined. An approximately 10-particle-diameter wide velocity transition zone is found between the two regions. While the tracer particle is in the inactive region moving away from the blade, the time dependence of the axial displacement is well described by a logarithmic relationship. The probability of particle movement towards the centre of the blade was quantified using a “central tendency” index. The calculated central tendency shows maxima at each side of the blade. The separation of the two maxima, which indicates the width of the active region, increases with fill level but is independent of rotational speed.