An examination of the influence of drained peatlands on regional stream water chemistry

Catharine Pschenyckyj, Thomas Donahue, Mary Kelly-Quinn, Connie O’Driscoll, Florence Renou-Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Currently, 50% of Irish rivers do not meet water quality standards, with many declining due to numerous pressures, including peatland degradation. This study examines stream water quality in the Irish midlands, a region where raised bogs have been all historically disturbed to various extent and the majority drained for industrial or domestic peat extraction. For the first time, we provide in-depth analysis of stream water chemistry within a heavily modified bog landscape. Small streams from degraded bogs exhibited greater levels of pollutants, in particular: total dissolved nitrogen (0.48 mg/l) and sulphate (18.49 mg/l) as well as higher electrical conductivity (mean: 334 μS/cm) compared to similar bog streams in near-natural bogs. Except for site-specific nitrogen pollution in certain streams surrounding degraded peatlands, the chemical composition of the receiving streams did not significantly differ between near-natural and degraded sites, reflecting the spatio-temporal scales of disturbance in this complex peat-scape. Dissolved organic carbon concentrations in all the receiving streams were high (27.2 mg/l) compared to other Irish streams, even within other peatland catchments. The region is experiencing overall a widespread loss of fluvial nitrogen and carbon calling for (a) the development of management instruments at site-level (water treatment) and landscape-level (rewetting) to assist with meeting water quality standards in the region, and (b) the routine monitoring of water chemistry as part of current and future peatland management activities.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 28 Mar 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors are grateful to the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for funding the SWAMP project (2018-W-LS-18): Strategies to improve water quality from managed peatlands under EPA 2014–2020. The EPA Research Programme is a Government of Ireland initiative funded by the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment. It is administered by the EPA, which has the statutory function of co-ordinating and promoting environmental research. The authors would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and Dr Jon Yearsley for his statistical advice.

Funding Information:
Open Access funding provided by the IReL Consortium. The research leading to these results received funding from the EPA under Grant Agreement 2018-W-LS-18. The authors declare they have no financial interests.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023, The Author(s).


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