Eutrophication of inland waters is recognised as Ireland’s most serious environmental pollution problem, and it is my hope that my research will contribute to mitigating and resolving the issue.
Much of Ireland's plantation forestry is situated in upland blanket peat catchments, and harvesting activities carried out in these ecologically sensitive areas can result in the export of harmful nutrients and other contaminants to nearby surface waters. The pristine nature of the waters in these upland catchments, and the unique flora and fauna present therein, make them particularly sensitive to nutrient enrichment, or eutrophication. Furthermore, the drains and streams running through these peatland forests are of particularly great importance, as they are the headwaters of Ireland's rivers. This means that the pollution of these small watercourses can have implications that reach much further than simply the areas directly adjacent to the forests themselves.
In terms of preventing the flow of nutrients to nearby waters, current best management practices advocate the use of vegetated buffer zones between forests and receiving waters. Unfortunately, these measures have been found to be inadequate to stop highly mobile, dissolved nutrients from reaching adjacent waters. This is largely due to the peaty soil's inability to adsorb nutrients. My research is focused on investigating the use of various low-cost amendments which might prove useful in improving the soil's nutrient binding capacity, or which might be integrated into existing forestry drainage networks in such a manner as to immobilise these dissolved nutrients, preventing them from reaching nearby surface waters.
I'm hopeful that the techniques and technologies I'm currently developing might also address pollution problems caused by nutrient losses from industries other than forestry, such as agriculture and horticulture, and that they could also be adapted to the concomitant pollutants from these sources.