The first – Forests & Water – details how the Department and the wider forestry sector will fulfil their role in achieving the objectives under the 2nd cycle of the Water Framework Directive (WFD), as set out in the River Basin Management Plan for Ireland 2018-2021 (RBMP). This RBMP was published by the Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government in April of this year.

At the launch of the ‘Forests & Water’ document 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.”

Ireland’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, a category in which forestry has been identified as being the main pressure. These water bodies (streams, rivers and lakes) are typically in upland areas and headwaters, and the restructuring of existing forests after harvesting provides a key opportunity to address this pressure.

The overall approach set out in Forests & Water is (i) to safeguard water during all forestry operations; (ii) to restructure existing forests to reflect water sensitivities, where required; and (iii) to situate and design new woodlands and forests in a way that protects water quality. The aim is to meet the challenges set out in the RBMP.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) welcomes the measures and targeted approach set out in Forests & Water, and looks forward to working with the DAFM and the wider forestry sector to reduce and eliminate forestry-related pressures and to fully realise the potential of Ireland’s woodlands and forests as a strategic tool in the protection and enhancement of Ireland’s water.

The second publication is the draft Plan for Forests & Freshwater Pearl Mussel in Ireland, which is now available on the Department’s website as a public consultation document.

This Plan targets 27 key FPM catchments in the country, including the ‘priority eight’, in which populations have the greatest chance of recovery. The Plan’s objectives are to eliminate, reduce or mitigate: (i) diffuse and point sources of sediment and nutrients; and (ii) 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 for FPM set for each of the Special Areas of Conservation involved.

The implementation of the Plan for Forests & FPM will strongly complement the Department’s recently launched Pearl Mussel Project, a European Innovation Partnership (EIP) project under Ireland’s Rural Development Programme 2014-2020, and supported by an overall budget of €10 million.

Source: Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine