What’s the issue?
Forestry is in the ‘top three’ most significant pressures on our waters and is the biggest threat to our ‘high status’ water bodies (those in excellent condition). It is also one of the key land-uses contributing to impacts on sensitive aquatic habitats in Ireland – in particular rivers with the highly endangered freshwater pearl mussel.
Commercial forestry in upland areas has been found to be a particular threat and poor forestry planting and harvesting practises have damaging effects on the aquatic environment. These include acidification, physical alteration to habitats, the release of sediments from soils which are washed into streams and affect stream ecology by altering the streambed habitat necessary for fish spawning and the survival of streambed invertebrates; and the pollution of water with excessive nutrients.
The HYDROFOR study (a 7-year assessment of the impacts of forestry operations on the ecological quality of water in Ireland) identified a range of negative impacts of forestry operations on surface water quality and freshwater ecology.
What needs to change?
- Strategic plans for afforestation at a catchment scale should replace the current ad hoc system.
- Afforestation and felling licences should contain WFD-specific conditions which reflect the particular conditions and sensitivities of each site and must be considered in the context of a catchment-wide assessment of the cumulative impact of forestry, including wider riparian buffers where necessary.
- The requirement to replant should be removed in high status catchments and acid sensitive peat soils; and any replanting should be informed by a water quality impact (WFD-specific assessment).
- Compliance with conditions must be enforced properly and freshwater Pearl Mussel sites in particular should be very tightly regulated.