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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. 

Research objectives

The overall objective of the research 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:

  • Conducting research into the effects of forests, forestry management and new planting on the quality and quantity of water
  • Evaluating the contribution of forestry to Natural Flood Management
  • Assessing the effectiveness of Best Management Practices at protecting the freshwater environment
  • Assessing the interactions between riparian woodland and the freshwater environment
  • Investigating the effects of afforested peatland restoration on water quality and flows
  • Investigating the long-term effects of forestry on surface water acidification
  • Opportunity mapping for woodland creation to maximise multiple benefits and minimise risks

Our Involvement

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 Commission

Forestry and Land Scotland

Natural Resources Wales

Scottish Forestry

Forestry England

European Union

Environment Agency

Scottish Environment Protection Agency

Natural England

Scottish Natural Heritage

Highways England

Marine Scotland

Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

Bangor University

University of Birmingham

Cardiff University

Durham University

University of Edinburgh

University of Glascow

Lancaster University

University of Leeds

University of Manchester

Newcastle University

University of Reading

University of Stirling

The Rivers Trust

Several local river and fisheries Trusts



Scottish Water

United Utilities 

Portsmouth Water

Southern Water

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 occurring 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 targeted 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.


Funding & partners
  • This research is primarily funded by the Forestry Commission and devolved forestry administrations.
Forestry Staff Tom Nisbet Cropped 2.391c9c68.fill 600x600 1
Tom Nisbet

Science Group Leader

Forestry Staff NadeenShah.ae984983.fill 600x600 1
Nadeem Shah


Forestry Staff Huw Thomas 5YffRF5.2e16d0ba.fill 600x600 1
Huw Thomas

Project Manager, Hydrologist

Forestry Staff Sam Broadmeadow Cropped 1.2e16d0ba.fill 600x600 1
Samantha Broadmeadow