Biodiversity in Irish Plantation Forests (BioForest)

ERTDI Report 51 - S. Iremonger et al.

Summary: Final Report of ERTDI project 2000-LS-3.1-M2 (S. Iremonger et al.)

Published: 2007

ISBN: 1-84095-203-2

Pages: 51

Filesize: 1,024 KB

Format: pdf


The Republic of Ireland published a strategic plan for the forest sector in 1996 (DAFF, 1996) which involved increasing the forest cover dramatically. Ireland is one of the least forested countries in Europe, even though forestry plantations have increased forest cover from less than 1% of land cover to about 10% in the last century. The plan aims to increase this to 17% by 2030, mainly by planting new commercial forests at approximately 20,000 ha per year. This increase represents a huge change in land use and land cover across Ireland, and has far-reaching economic, social and ecological consequences.

The most widely planted species in these commercial forests is Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), a non-native conifer, and many forest industries are associated with this species. Having changed some funding policies in the late 1990s to promote the use of broadleaves in plantations, the planting of ash (Fraxinus excelsior) increased significantly and broadleaves now constitute 20% of new plantings.

In order to promote forest biodiversity and fully practice sustainable forest management (SFM), it is necessary to know what organisms are associated with the forest plantations, and what the manager should be aiming at. A multitude of questions needed to be answered, from the most basic (What organisms are living in or associated with the plantations? What are the differences between these and the flora and fauna of native/semi-natural forests?) to the more complex (Has afforestation improved the general biodiversity of the area? What effect does previous habitat type have on the diversity of the developing forest? What policies and practices support the creation and maintenance of the most diverse plantations?). Until recently very little was known about the ecology of these forests and their associated flora and fauna: ecologists were more likely to investigate natural land-cover types than these more artificial ones. Ireland’s native and semi-natural woodlands are very different ecologically to most forest plantations. The former are generally dominated by a broadleaf mix and are not clear-felled at commercial maturity whereas the latter have traditionally been dominated by a non-native conifer monoculture on a clear-felling cycle of 35–55 years.

Design of the BIOFOREST Project

Against the forestry background described above, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Council for Forest Research and Development (COFORD) arranged to jointly fund research on forest biodiversity from National Development Plan funds, in the ERTDI programme. The resulting BIOFOREST project was a large-scale project running from 2001 to 2006 with the aim of providing much-needed basic information on biodiversity in Irish plantation forests. The focus of this research was to illustrate the effects of different aspects of management on biodiversity within forests, from the planning stage through to the mature forest. The research had an applied orientation and objectives to feed directly into the updating of forest policy and practice documents.

This large-scale project (2000-LS-3.1-M2) was structured as three smaller projects, each addressing a separate aspect of forest biodiversity. These were:

  • Project 3.1.1: Biodiversity Assessment of Afforestation Sites.
  • Project 3.1.2: Assessment of Biodiversity at Different Stages of the Forest Cycle
  • Project 3.1.3: Investigation of Experimental Methods to Enhance Biodiversity in Plantation Forests

The BIOFOREST research team comprised the following organisations:

  • Department of Zoology, Ecology and Plant Science (ZEPS), Environment Research Institute (ERI), University College, Cork (UCC)
  • Department of Botany, School of Natural Sciences, Trinity College, Dublin (TCD)
  • Coillte Teoranta, The Irish Forestry Board (Coillte).