Estimating the effects of land use at different scales on high ecological status in Irish rivers

W.M. Roberts, R.M. Fealy, D.G. Doody, P. Jordan, K. Daly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


High ecological status at river sites is an indicator of minimal disturbance from anthropogenic activities and the presence of ecologically important species and communities. However, a lack of clarity on what factors cause sites to lose high ecological status is limiting the ability to maintain the quality of these sites. Examination of ecological status records at 508 high status river sites throughout the Republic of Ireland revealed that 337 had fallen below high status at some point between 2001 and 2012 due to changes in invertebrate communities. A geographical information system was used to characterise land use and environmental variables in the catchment, riparian and reach areas upstream of the sites. The relationships between these variables at the three spatial scales and whether or not river sites had maintained high ecological status were then estimated by multiple logistic regression and propensity modelling. The results indicated that grassland at either catchment or riparian scales had a greater negative impact on high ecological status than at the reach scale. This effect appeared to be strongest for upland, steeply sloping rivers that are subject to high rainfall, possibly due to the presence of sensitive biota and/or a greater potential for erosion. These results highlighted the need for better management of grassland upstream of the high status sites, with a focus on river alterations and critical source areas of nutrients, sediments and pesticides that are hydrologically connected to the river. Sustainable management practices and land use planning in those areas will need to be considered carefully if the aim of maintaining high ecological status at river sites is to be achieved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)618 - 625
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date14 May 2016
Publication statusPublished online - 14 May 2016


  • Land use
  • Ecological status
  • Propensity modelling
  • Water framework directive
  • River catchment management


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