Although pollen counts and historical records indicate that Ireland had a vast wilderness with immense spans of ancient woodland, the island was deforested between 1600-1800: finally dropping to 1% cover by 1925. We still have the lowest forestry cover in Europe: for perspective, Ireland’s largest forest is 9,884 hectares (Cloosh Valley) compared to 190,079 hectares in Galloway, Scotland.
70% of Ireland’s forestry is non-native conifer plantation, significant sways located on unsuitable marginal uplands. 20% is native broadleaf, often located on vast estates, such as the Dunsany Nature Reserve in County Meath. Irish woodlands are sensational; the herbaceous layer is a pillow of mosses that hug the toes. Bluebells pop from their bulbs in early spring before the fiddleheads unfold into ferns. Meadowsweet scent the air with violets and primrose, with enchanter’s nightshade flowering later in summer.
The shrub layer, between 3-10m, can contain small trees such as holly, whose red berries provide valuable late summer nutrition for wildlife, and hazel, whose nuts are gathered by squirrels and foragers alike in November. The canopy and upper canopy are the realms of the oak, alder and elm.
In Ireland today, there are very few woodlands that are larger than 100 hectares and only a quarter are older than 30-years of age due to the 30-year harvesting cycle for commercial timbers. These interspersed pockets of woodland habitat, surrounded by fields, limit the viability of larger wildlife. This is why Ireland’s hedgerows are crucial for functional biodiversity.
Mature hedgerows, scrubland and individual trees make up 482,000 ha, compared to 770,020 ha of forestry (2020). Framing fields and roads, hedgerows create corridors that facilitate the migration and nesting for smaller animals such as field mice and the grey partridge. The hedge was designed with trees like the blackthorn and hawthorn which have sharp spikes that create a natural barrier for livestock.
The often-overlooked bastion of biodiversity in Ireland is our peatlands which make up 23% of the land: we have the greatest expanse of raised bog in Europe. Peatlands have been commercially drained and cut for nearly a century but those days are coming to an end. There are efforts to regenerate the mico-topographical ecological menagerie of the emerald green bogs of old. Created by certain sphagnum mosses (the bog builders), these wetlands are common in the midlands.
The Ballinderry Bog is located near the location of our woodland. We’re cognizant of the ecological opportunity of diversifying habitats and support the reestablishment of these wetlands and wet woodlands. These habitats are havens for many invertebrates, dragonflies and rare birds like the curlew and snipe.
What happens beneath the soil is also important: as above, so below. As the woodland grows we will coppice and thin as necessary. The wood will be left on-site to decompose which will provide valuable nutrients for the mycelium network (fungi) and support the soil matrix.
The composition of our woodland will be determined by the soil and topography of the site. We will avail of the Native Woodland Scheme Grant to afforest sections whilst also creating coppices and sections of grass swards at varying height and wildflower meadows. We will enhance the hedgerows and work with landowners in the area to increase functional biodiversity.
Our objective is to manage the woodland pasture to create an abundance of forest resources to support native wildlife. The site will be accessible to the public but there will also be areas sectioned off to give nature the right-of-way.
Native Irish Trees
Ireland was once 80% forest. The canopy dominated by broadleaf trees like oak, alder, birch, hazel and ash.
Now there is less than 2% native woodland cover. The majority of these trees are less than 400-years old and limited to a few hundred acres.
There are a few exceptions, including the 1000-year old Brian Boru Oak in County Clare, and the Silken Thomas Yew Tree in County Kildare.
The Ash Tree is currently being decimated by a fungal pathogen, the Ash Dieback Disease, which is likely to cause the death of most of Ireland’s remaining ash trees.
Conifer trees were once common, great pine trees have been found beneath the bogs, but these pre-date the Ice Age.
There are only 3 Irish Conifers remaining: the Yew which is often found around graveyards, the Scots Pine, and the Juniper, which has suffered in recent times due to landscaping, over-grazing and burning.
The Sycamore and Beech are not native to Ireland but have been here for hundreds of years and have integrated themselves into the landscape.
Ireland’s Nature Reserves
Cahermurphy, 12 hectares.
Cahermurphy has a small oak woodland with a diversity of habitats, including a small stream. The flora is rich and varied. Cahermurphy house was once the stately home of Arthur Knox, the famed British traveller and naturalist. Known locally as White Sands because of Lough Graney sandy lakeside.
Dromore, 330 hectares.
Just north of Ennis, Dromore was established as a nature reserve because of its ecological complexity.: habitats include a river, lakes, turloughs, callows (flooded meadows), fen peat and reed beds.
Deep soils root a larger ash woodland with hazel scrub on shallower soils and patches of limestone pavement. The ash is likely to be decimated by the Ash Dieback Disease. Small areas of willow and alder woodland occur around lake shores
Glengarriff Wood, 300 hectares
Old oak woodland and shelter of the retreating O’Sullivan Bear after the Battle of Kinsale in 1602 . In 1751, Glengarriff became of the estate of the White family, owners of Bantry House. The woods were largely protected from the exploitation and devastation that many other woodlands in Ireland experienced
Knockomagh Wood 125 hectares.
Near the town of Skibbereen, this sessile oak woodland with beech and bluebells rests aside Knockomagh Mountain and offers an impressive view of the Lough Hyne Nature Reserve and the coast of West Cork.
The name in Irish, An Gaorthadh, means the wooded river valley. This alluvial plain was until recently the last surviving full oak forest in Europe until it was flooded to facilitate two hydroelectric dams. It is now a protected wetland and rich in biodiversity, including the Freshwater Pearl Mussel.