Forests and water
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The Water Framework Directive (2000/60/EEC) requires EU member states to achieve good ecological and chemical status for all waters within river basin districts by 2015. The characterisation study which was undertaken to identify the anthropogenic pressures on water bodies identified forestry as one of the land use activities posing a potential risk in terms of diffuse pollution. Among the pressures highlighted were increased acidification from plantations in acid-sensitive catchments, sedimentation from harvesting operations, road construction and erosion on steep catchments and eutrophication from fertilization on steep catchments and from harvesting on peat soils.
Our knowledge of these pressures arises from scientific studies carried out since the early 1990s on the interactions between forests and surface water quality. These have given us a deeper understanding of the underlying natural processes that give rise to these interactions and have led to the introduction of Forest Service guidelines on forest operations and water quality. However, many gaps in our knowledge remain and the projects described below are building on previous research to further our insights into these interactions while also investigating practical mitigation measures to address the pressures that water bodies may experience from forests and forestry operations.
HYDROFOR is a multidisciplinary 5 year project that brings together the key scientists and institutions concerned with the environmental aspects of water quality, to investigate the impacts of forests and forestry operations on Ireland¿s aquatic ecology. The project, co-funded by COFORD and the EPA, builds in part on a previous study, FORWAT, that highlighted the complexities of forest-water interactions ¿ complexities related to both the ecological sensitivities of forested catchments and the nature and extent of the forestry operations ongoing in these catchments. Results from the project will help to refine codes of practice on the sizing of clearfells, design guidelines for riparian woodland, buffer zones and possibly acidity buffering to protect biota in receiving waters from any adverse damage from soil and nutrient releases resulting from harvesting operations.
SANIFAC is also a project that extends the work undertaken in a previous study, SILTATION, which has provided valuable insights into the pattern and extent of sediment and phosphorous release following clearfelling in a peatland catchment. Study sites in the new project will be confined to three acid sensitive catchments in Co Mayo where the effects of clearfelling on the hydrology, chemistry and biology of the receiving waters will be monitored pre and post clearfelling. This work will be continued under the umbrella of the HYDROFOR project when the current funding being provided under the STIMULUS programme is utilised.
Projects in this research programme:
FORFLUX: Biogeochemistry of Irish forests
HYDROFOR: Assessment of the impacts of forest operations on the ecological quality of water
SANIFAC : Assessment and mitigation of soil and nutrient losses from acid-sensitive catchments