Uncut buffer zones between clear-cuttings and water bodies can reduce export of nutrients to surface waters, but decrease in harvested stock volume result in losses of income for the landowner. Thinning in the buffer zones increases the income, but the effect of thinning on nutrient export is not well known. The FEMMA ecosystem model was applied to simulate nitrogen (N) export from a catchment with clear-cuttings and buffer zones. FEMMA is a spatially semi-distributed model calculating water and nitrogen fluxes in a scale of head-water catchments. The calibrated FEMMA model was applied to produce scenarios with different thinning intensities in buffer zones of varying dimensions. Reductions in N export achieved with buffer zones were computed for a 5-year period following the cutting. The economic current value of the stand left in the buffer zone represented an opportunity cost of the buffer zone. The unit cost of N reduction (€kg-1 N reduced) calculated from these simulations ranged from €219 to €1578 kg-1 N. A similar reduction in N export could be achieved with different combinations of buffer zone dimension and thinning intensity, but the unit costs of N reduction differed remarkably. The results indicate that cost-effective water protection can be achieved when the dimension of buffer zone and the intensity of thinning are optimized. Experimental research is warranted to verify these simulation results.
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