Articles | Volume 8, issue 3
30 Jun 2004
30 Jun 2004

The impact of conifer harvesting on stream water quality: the Afon Hafren, mid-Wales

C. Neal, B. Reynolds, M. Neal, H. Wickham, L. Hill, and B. Williams

Abstract. Results for long term water quality monitoring are described for the headwaters of the principal headwater stream of the River Severn, the Afon Hafren. The results are linked to within-catchment information to describe the influence of conifer harvesting on stream and shallow groundwater quality. A 19-year record of water quality data for the Hafren (a partially spruce forested catchment with podzolic soil) shows the classic patterns of hydrochemical change in relation to concentration and flow responses for upland forested systems. Progressive felling of almost two-thirds of the forest over the period of study resulted in little impact from harvesting and replanting in relation to stream water quality. However, at the local scale, a six years’ study of felling indicated significant release of nitrate into both surface and groundwater; this persisted for two or three years before declining. The study has shown two important features. Firstly, phased felling has led to minimal impacts on stream water. This contrasts with the results of an experimental clear fell for the adjacent catchment of the Afon Hore where a distinct water quality deterioration was observed for a few years. Secondly, there are localised zones with varying hydrology that link to groundwater sources with fracture flow properties. This variability makes extrapolation to the catchment scale difficult without very extensive monitoring. The implications of these findings are discussed in relation to strong support for the use of phased felling-based management of catchments and the complexities of within catchment processes.

Keywords: deforestation, water quality, acidification, pH, nitrate, alkalinity, ANC, aluminium, dissolved organic carbon, Plynlimon, forest, spruce, Afon Hafren, podzol