Well-designed woodlands are ‘vital’ to protecting streams and lakes

The restructuring of forests after harvesting provides an opportunity to address “high ecological status” streams, rivers and lakes that are at risk of decline, a leading minister has stated.

Last Saturday (July 14), Minister of State for Food, Forestry and Horticulture, Andrew Doyle, announced the release of two publications: ‘Forest Water’; and a ‘Draft Plan for Forests and Freshwater Pearl Mussel in Ireland’.

At the launch, the minister said: “Well-sited, designed and managed woodlands and forests benefit water quality and aquatic ecosystems significantly, by delivering a range of ecosystem services such as the prevention of sediment and nutrient runoff, the protection of banks from erosion, food drop of insects and leaf litter into the aquatic ecosystem.

“The shading and cooling of water, the overall restoration of riparian habitats, and helping floodwater control – these benefits are recognised through many countries the world over,” the minister said.

The Government’s River Basin Management Plan identifies certain challenges that the forestry sector in Ireland must address.

This is particularly so within ‘high ecological status’ objective water bodies at risk of decline where forestry has been identified as being the main pressure.

These water bodies – including: streams; rivers; and lakes – are typically in upland areas and headwaters, and the reports highlight that the restructuring of existing forests after harvesting provides a “key opportunity” to address this pressure.

The approach of the ‘Forests and Water’ plan is:
  • To safeguard water during all forestry operations;
  • To restructure existing forests to reflect water sensitivities – where required;
  • To situate and design new woodlands in a way that protects water quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has welcomed the measures and targeted approach set out in ‘Forests and Water’.

The objectives of the ‘Draft Plan for Forests and Freshwater Pearl Mussel in Ireland’ are to eliminate, reduce or mitigate the following: diffuse and point sources of sediment and nutrients; to avoid the disruption of the natural hydrological regime, arising from forests and regulated forestry activities within the plan’s area; to ensure that these do not threaten the achievement of the conservation objectives.

Public consultation is now underway in relation to the draft plan, and relevant documents are available for download on the department’s website.