Catchment News

EPA Research Report No 169: HYDROFOR: Assessment of the Impacts of Forest Operations on the Ecological Quality of Water

| in News, Research

The EPA has published the results of the  HYDROFOR research project which is an EPA and DAFM-supported multi-sector co-operative project to investigate the impacts of forestry operations on Ireland’s aquatic ecology.

A multi-disciplinary group of researchers at University College Dublin (UCD), University College Cork (UCC) and the National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG) investigated the relationships between conifer forests, forestry operations, and surface water quality and ecology in Irish rivers and lakes.

The report is available on the EPA website.

EPA-funded research generates a scientific base to support environmental protection.  Projects are carefully targeted to deliver on three key areas: Identifying pressures; Informing policy and Developing solutions.

Identifying Pressures

Implementation of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) requires identification and quantification of anthropogenic pressures on water resources and the implementation of Programmes of Measures (POMs) to prevent further deterioration in water quality and achieve least good status for all waters. The 2005 “National Characterisation Report for Ireland” produced during the first WFD management cycle, identified forestry as one of the land-use activities posing potential risk in terms of diffuse pollution due to increased acidification from conifer plantations in acid-sensitive catchments, sedimentation from clear felling, harvesting, new plantations, road construction and erosion on steep catchments, and eutrophication from fertilisation on steep catchments and forest harvesting on peat soils. The Hydrofor project identified windrowing as an additional potential source of sediment and nutrients in streams. The potential for impact depends on the magnitude of the pressure and susceptibility of the pathway as well as the sensitivity of the receptor.

Informing Policy

The research presented in this report will inform forest policy review, environmental considerations in the development of forestry programmes, the refinement of forest and water quality guidelines, and guidance on best practice in relation to forest operations aimed at reducing pollutant inputs. The latter is especially relevant in the development of measures to protect endangered species such as the pearl mussel. The research also has relevance to water quality monitoring and reporting by the Environmental Protection Agency and overall land-use planning.

Developing Solutions

HYDROFOR addressed several key information needs by investigating pollutant inputs from forest operations through the entire forest cycle. The key drivers of the episodic acidity were shown to be organic acidity together with base cation dilution. Higher losses of organic acidity from forests planted on peat were highlighted as a concern. Elevated sediment and phosphorus release to water courses was detected during felling, windrowing and replanting. A small number of potential mitigation measures (aquatic buffer zones and sediment traps) to address these problems were investigated in this study and the research evidence highlighted their ability to reduce some pollutant inputs.

Who is involved?

Quite simply, everyone in Ireland has a role to play. This can be from something as simple as making sure you don’t pollute your local stream, or a local community working together to establish a Rivers Trust to enhance the rivers and lakes in their area, to a Government Department or Agency helping a Minister implement a new policy to help protect and enhance all our water bodies.

This website has been developed and is maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency, and is a collaboration between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Local Authority Waters Programme.


Local Authority Waters Programme

The Local Authority Waters Programme coordinates the efforts of local authorities and other public bodies in the implementation of the River Basin Management Plan, and supports local community and stakeholder involvement in managing our natural waters, for everyone’s benefit.


Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA is responsible for coordinating the monitoring, assessment and reporting on the status of our 4,842 water bodies, looking at trends and changes, determining which waterbodies are at risk and what could be causing this, and drafting environmental objectives for each.


Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

The Department is responsible for making sure that the right policies, regulations and resources are in place to implement the Water Framework Directive, and developing a River Basin Management Plan and Programme of Measures to protect and restore our waters.