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This research programme is concerned with improving our understanding of the effects of forests on water so that forestry not only protects, but where possible enhances the freshwater environment.
Forests and the way that they are managed can have profound effects on the hydrological cycle of their catchment. Well designed and managed forest help to protect water and the wide range of flora and fauna that depend on this important habitat. In contrast, poor planning and management can contribute to water shortages, local flooding and water pollution, including increased siltation, nutrient enrichment and acidification.
The overall objective of the resarch programme is to improve our understanding of the effects of forests on water to ensure that future benefits can be secured and any negative effects minimised.
Specific objectives include:
The protection of the water environment is a key element of sustainable forestry as set out in the UK Forestry Standard.
Much of the research is undertaken in partnership with other research institutes, regulatory bodies and universities, at both national and European levels. Strong links are also maintained with end users through the provision of expert advice and involvement in key stakeholder groups.
Current funders and collaborators/partners include:
Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Forestry and Land Scotland
Natural Resources Wales
Scottish Environment Protection Agency
Scottish Natural Heritage
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
University of Birmingham
University of Edinburgh
University of Glascow
University of Leeds
University of Manchester
University of Reading
University of Stirling
The Rivers Trust
Several local river and fisheries Trusts
South East Water
UK research on forests and water began in the 1960s; initially focused on assessing the effects of the upland conifer afforestation that was occuring at the time. The main concerns centred on whether afforestation would reduce water supplies significantly and dry up streams.
These issues were replaced in the 1980s by increasing fears over the potential of forestry to degrade water quality. Research addressed the effects of forests on stream water acidification, the pollution of rural water supplies, siltation in watercourses and nutrient enrichment of lochs.
In the 1990s, the emphasis shifted to the development and assessment of good management practice following the introduction of the FC Forest and Water Guidelines in 1988 and their replacement with the UK Forestry Standard in 2011.
Success in demonstrating the effectiveness of good practice measures during the 2000s led to greater focus on the benefits of woodland creation for water protection. Research on this topics continues to grow, including assessing the effects of targetted woodland creation for reducing agricultural diffuse pollution, the contribution of forestry to natural flood management and the valuation and use of payments for woodland water services.
Several long-term catchment studies continue to examine the effects of a full forest growth cycle and restocking on water quality and quantity.
New studies have been established to assess the impact of developments in forestry practice, including forest removal for the restoration of peatland habitats.