National Survey of Native Woodlands

Client: National Parks & Wildlife Service

Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) at Clonlost Wood, Co. Westmeath, photo by Edwina Cole

Project Summary

BEC Consultants conducted this major national research project from 2003 to 2008. The project involved field ecology, GIS mapping, soil analysis and statistical data analysis. During the field survey, data on vascular plants, bryophytes and lichens were recorded along with data on woodland management, structure, timber quality, regeneration and invasive species. In total, 1,320 sites were surveyed and over 70,000 tree stems were measured. A desk study augmented the Forestry Inventory and Planning System (FIPS) to produce a national inventory of native woodlands in Microsoft Access and ArcGIS.

Project Background

Ireland is one of Europe’s least wooded countries with only about 9% forest cover, comprised mainly of commercial plantations of non-native conifers. None of Ireland’s woodlands can be considered wholly ‘natural’ as even the oldest show signs of human activity and modification. The term ‘native’ woodland therefore generally refers to broadleaved woodlands, comprised of native species that are not intensively managed.

Irish woodlands had been classified according to various systems e.g. EU Habitats Directive Annex I habitats, Fossitt’s (2000) A Guide to Habitats in Ireland, Coillte stand classifications and phytosociological communities, but no systematic nationwide survey and classification of native Irish woodland had previously been carried out.

This project aimed to:

  1. Create a database of Irish Native Woodlands in Microsoft Access and ArcGIS;
  2. Provide an appraisal of the applicability of current woodland classification systems;
  3. Facilitate a systematic evaluation of the conservation value and the regeneration status of Irish woodlands.

Further Research & Woodland Management

The National Survey of Native Woodlands provided baseline information for the Woodland Monitoring Survey (2011-2012), which assessed the conservation status of the EU Habitats Directive Annex I habitats sessile oak woods and alluvial forests in Ireland. Other woodland ecology projects conducted by BEC Consultants include the Ancient and Long-established Woodland project and the Millennium Forest Survey, as well as the preparation of woodland management plans.