News, stories and reports from Forestry Commission Scotland and the National Forest Estate

The benefits of good water management in forests

Good forest management is about much more than planting and cutting down trees. We are working to protect and improve Scotland's water environment by reducing rural diffuse pollution.

Trees help to reduce the amount of pollution that drains from land by soaking up run-off and reducing the amount of soil that gets washed into watercourses. The woodlands need to be managed well though, so that a good canopy and root system grow using the least possible amount of cultivation, fertilisers and pesticides, and so that water doesn't drain directly from harvesting and planting sites into watercourses.

Mounder Blades

Best practice

We work in Scotland's forests and with a wide range of stakeholders to reduce diffuse pollution through good forestry practice.

Julia Garritt, our Policy Adviser for Water and Soils came up with the idea of making two videos to demonstrate good practice water management in forests.

 Julia and the film crew

She explained: "We worked with SEPA to make the videos - they're the water regulators and we're the forestry regulators so it makes sense for us to work together.

"The videos are made for Forest Managers and contractors, and explain how to comply with water regulations when cultivating or harvesting a site. The videos use live-action shots from sites and interviews with the foresters involved to demonstrate how straightforward compliance can be.

"The videos showcase water management work in south Scotland by foresters from FCS, Scottish Woodlands, Tilhill and Forestry Ground Preparation Ltd, and we're grateful that they agreed to be involved. In fact, working together to get the best solution for a site is a key message from these videos, and all the foresters involved say that it helped them to work effectively without the risk of casing a pollution incident or breaching water regulations."

The cultivation video

This clip explains why it's important to plan site drainage before you start planting. The foresters describe how they considered the site's former land use, soil and typography, weather patterns and existing drainage, and then chose an appropriate machine for ground preparation. Road-building and upgrading is covered here too. They used walk-overs, surveys and map information to plan site drainage systems, and used combinations of culverts and cut-off drains, sumps, silt traps and vegetated buffer zones to stop drainage water going directly into a watercourse.

The harvesting video

The harvesting video also underlines the importance of planning drainage before operations start. Using examples from a sanitation felling site and a site with a very sensitive watercourse and high public access, the foresters explain the benefits of putting in mitigation measures beforehand and not waiting until problems arise. They show how they used sumps, silt traps, sleeping policemen and brash mats to settle out sediment run-off and stop it getting into the watercourse, and how they planned excavator routes and timber lifting areas to avoid more sediment being generated.

water management

Managing water in forests

There are two main sets of rules that govern how water should be managed in Scottish forests - the UK Forestry Standard 'Forest & Water' Guidelines and the Controlled Activities Regulations' General Binding Rules.

FCS, SEPA and representative groups like Confor, the Forest Contractors Association and Scottish Land & Estates are working to help foresters manage the environment wisely. A key partnership is the Diffuse Pollution Management Advisory Group, set up to protect and improve Scotland's water environment by reducing rural diffuse pollution. We're starting a major new initiative to publish high quality 'toolbox' advice on managing water in all aspects of forestry. We'll make sure you hear more about this as the project develops.