Woodland for Water: Woodland measures for meeting Water Framework Directive objectives

An evaluation of the key issues relating to woodland and the Water Framework Directive.

The Water Framework Directive

The Water Framework Directive 2000 (WFD) is a European Directive that seeks to protect, enhance and restore the condition of all water in the natural environment: including rivers, lochs, estuaries and coastal waters, as well as water under the ground.

It provides a common framework for addressing human activities that exert “pressures” on the water environment and has set an objective that all “water bodies” should be restored to “good status” by 2015.

The majority of water bodies in the UK and in other EU countries currently fail to meet this target status due to a range of pressures such as diffuse pollution and water abstraction.

The role of woodland

Riparian woodlandIt is recognised that poorly planned and managed forests can exert a pressure on the water environment, while the right tree planted in the right place can protect waters and help to meet the objectives of the WFD.  In a recent review, jointly funded by Foresty Commission England and the Environment Agency, Forest Research and ADAS considered the key issues relating to woodland and the WFD.

The main report (PDF-1912K) reviews the latest evidence concerning the positive and negative impacts of woodland on surface and groundwaters.

The Evironment Agency summary report  is also provided.

Aims of the review

  • To collate existing scientific research and policy options to increase our understanding of how woodland can be used to improve water quality and water management to help meet WFD objectives of achieving ‘good ecological and chemical status’ in all water bodies, where possible.
  • To provide a robust evidence-base for developing woodland and environmental policies.
  • To review relevant studies that could inform the development of a cost-benefit analysis of proposed measures, summarising available valuations of those ‘ecosystem services’.

The review was framed around a set of pre-defined questions covering the main issues of diffuse pollution, water resources, flood alleviation, riparian management, climate change, contaminated land and waste, and land use and spatial planning.

It was steered by a group comprising representatives from the Environment Agency, Forestry Commission, Scottish Environment Protection Agency, Natural England, Countryside Council for Wales and Scottish Natural Heritage.

Logos of members of the steering group

Opportunity mapping

An additional element was a map-based case study to assess how woodland creation could be better targeted within catchments to locations where it would contribute most to maximising water and other benefits, while minimising risks.

Assessment of water benefits

A follow-up exercise was to assess the potential effectiveness of woodland creation for reducing the delivery of diffuse pollutants from agriculture to water. A short report (PDF-46KB) was submitted to Defra in July 2013 as a contribution to a commission for evidence and analysis as part of their Agriculture and Water Quality Project.

Flood alleviation and Cumbria

An updated summary of evidence (PDF-29KB) from UK studies on the contribution of forestry to flood alleviation was written in August 2014.

This was followed by a briefing note (PDF-108KB) in response to the December 2015 floods in Cumbria.