Water quality in the Scottish Uplands: A hydrological perspective on catchment hydrochemistry

C Soulsby, C Gibbins, A. J. Wade, R. Smart, R. Helliwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Land above 300 m covers approximately 75% of the surface of Scotland and most of the nation's major river systems have their headwaters in this upland environment. The hydrological characteristics of the uplands exert an important influence on the hydrochemistry of both headwater streams and downstream river systems. Thus, many of the spatial and temporal patterns in the chemical quality of surface waters are mediated by hydrological processes that route precipitation through upland catchments. These hydrological pathways also have an important influence on how the hydrochemistry of upland streams is responding to increasing pressures from environmental changes at the global and regional scales. At the present time, atmospheric deposition remains an issue in many parts of the Scottish uplands, where critical loads of acidity are exceeded, particularly in areas affected by increasing N deposition. Moreover, climatic change forecasts predict increasingly wetter, warmer and more seasonal conditions, which may modify the hydrochemical regimes of many river systems, particularly those with a strong snowmelt component. On a more localised scale, land management practices, including felling of commercial forests, expansion of native woodlands, agricultural decline and moorland management all have implications for the freshwater environment. Moreover, increasing public access to upland areas for a range of recreational activities have implications for water quality. Understanding the hydrology of the uplands, through integrated field and modelling studies, particularly of the hydrological pathways that regulate chemical transfers to streamwaters, will remain an important research frontier for the foreseeable future. (C) 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-94
Number of pages21
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue number1-3
Early online date12 Mar 2002
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2002


  • hydrology
  • water quality
  • hydrochemistry
  • uplands
  • Scotland
  • land-use
  • Cairngorm Mountains
  • Northeast Scotland
  • surface waters
  • current issues
  • Dee catchment
  • river water
  • NE Scotland
  • streams
  • acidification


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