Hydrological impact of widespread afforestation in Great Britain using a large ensemble of modelled scenarios

Buechel, Marcus; Slater, Louise; Dadson, Simon. 2022 Hydrological impact of widespread afforestation in Great Britain using a large ensemble of modelled scenarios. Communications Earth & Environment, 3, 6. 10, pp.

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Ambitious afforestation proposals in the last decade target potential flood mitigation and carbon storage benefits but without a systematic, large-scale (>1000 km2) quantitative evaluation of their impacts on streamflow. Here, we assess the impact of afforestation on streamflow across twelve diverse catchments (c.500-10,000 km2) using a high-resolution land-surface model with a large ensemble of afforestation scenarios. Afforestation consistently decreases median and low streamflow. Median modelled flow is reduced by 2.8% ± 1.0 (1 s.d.), or 10 mm yr−1 ± 2.1 (1 s.d.), for a ten-percentage point increase in catchment broadleaf woodland. We find no nationally-consistent reduction of extreme floods. In larger catchments, planting extent is a stronger control on streamflow than location. Our results suggest that despite its potential environmental and societal benefits, widespread afforestation may inadvertently reduce water availability, particularly in drier areas, whilst only providing a modest reduction in extreme flood flows.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Hydro-climate Risks (Science Area 2017-)
ISSN: 2662-4435
Additional Information. Not used in RCUK Gateway to Research.: Open Access paper - full text available via Official URL link.
Additional Keywords: forestry, hydrology, water resources
NORA Subject Terms: Hydrology
Date made live: 20 Jan 2022 12:53 +0 (UTC)

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