Catchment water quality in the year preceding and immediately following restoration of a drained afforested blanket bog

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Abstract

The restoration of drained afforested peatlands, through drain blocking and tree removal, is increasing in response to peatland restoration targets and policy incentives. In the short term, these intensive restoration operations may affect receiving watercourses and the biota that depend upon them. This study assessed the immediate effect of ‘forest-to-bog’ restoration by measuring stream and river water quality for a 15 month period pre- and post-restoration, in the Flow Country peatlands of northern Scotland. We found that the chemistry of streams draining restoration areas differed from that of control streams following restoration, with phosphate concentrations significantly higher (1.7–6.2 fold, mean 4.4) in restoration streams compared to the pre-restoration period. This led to a decrease in the pass rate (from 100 to 75%) for the target “good” quality threshold (based on EU Water Framework Directive guidelines) in rivers in this immediate post-restoration period, when compared to unaffected river baseline sites (which fell from 100 to 90% post-restoration). While overall increases in turbidity, dissolved organic carbon, iron, potassium and manganese were not significant post-restoration, they exhibited an exaggerated seasonal cycle, peaking in summer months in restoration streams. We attribute these relatively limited, minor short-term impacts to the fact that relatively small percentages of the catchment area (3–23%), in our study catchments were felled, and that drain blocking and silt traps, put in place as part of restoration management, were likely effective in mitigating negative effects. Looking ahead, we suggest that future research should investigate longer term water quality effects and compare different ways of potentially controlling nutrient release.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalBiogeochemistry
Early online date30 Mar 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 30 Mar 2021

Keywords

  • Felling
  • Phosphate
  • Ecological status
  • EU Water Framework Directive
  • Peatland restoration
  • Water chemistry

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