Analysis of the impacts of major anion variations on surface water acidity particularly with regard to conifer harvesting: case studies from Wales and Northern England
Abstract. Data on the water quality of streams draining a range of acidic and acid sensitive, mainly afforested, upland catchments in mid- and north-Wales and northern-England are described to investigate the acidification effects of conifer harvesting in relation to natural variability. Most sites show a large range in pH and major cation and major anion concentrations. The waters draining from the smaller catchments are more acidic and aluminium bearing reflecting a higher proportion of runoff from the acidic soils in each area. However, there is often a less acidic component of runoff under base-flow conditions due to ground-water contributions particularly within the larger streams. Higher concentrations of nitrate occur for sites which have been felled although declines in concentration occur several years after felling. Multiple regression analysis reveals the importance of cation exchange and within catchment acidification associated with sulphate and nitrate generation. Sulphate also has a component associated with weathering but the patterns vary from catchment to catchment. Analysis of the influence of changing anion concentrations associated with tree harvesting reveals that the acidification induced by increases in nitrate can be offset or reversed by the lowering of chloride and sulphate concentrations due to decreased atmospheric scavenging by the vegetation, reduced evapotranspiration and increased surface runoff diluting the acidity generated. It is concluded that contemporary UK forestry guidelines with an emphasis on phased harvesting of catchments over several years and careful harvesting methodologies can alleviate most problems of stream acidification associated with felling activities and in some cases can reverse the acidification pattern.