Forests are important components of the Irish landscape and yet are often considered to be areas that are devoid of animal and plant life. A recent study ‘BIOFOREST’ provided the first detailed study of the biodiversity that is found in Irish plantation forests. The results of that study clearly show that plantation forests are indeed important habitats for a range of spiders, beetles, plants and birds. In fact, BIOFORSET showed that a number of forest specialist such as Crossbills, Hen Harriers etc., were unable to survive or thrive outside a forest landscape. Thus it became clear that plantation forests not only provide alternative habitats for a range of species, but also represent an important habitat in their own right.
The focus of BIOFOREST was only on first rotation forests (sites that were planted for the first time). However a number of questions remained unanswered after this original work. Among the most important of these were how do these forests compare with native forests?, i.e. are they similar to oak or other native trees, do second rotation forests differ from the first?, and are there other groups of organisms living in these habitats that we know little about?. Thus PLANFORBIO set out to investigate gaps in our current knowledge and focus on particular elements of diversity and aspects of management that have been shown to need particular attention.
BIOFOREST was one of the first truly integrated ecological research teams to work in the Irish landscape. Traditionally specialists tend to work on in their own or cognate disciplines, thus opportunities for true integration rarely exist. However ecology doesn’t thrive in distinct disciplines this when teams of researchers work together the outputs are richer. The UCC and TCD teams worked very closely in an integrated way during BIOFOREST. The same teams from Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork and Coillte have come together in the PLANFORIO project, and successful in securing funding from COFORD for this next phase of research. Some new team members from Waterford Institute of Technology have also joined the team for PLANFORBIO. While the primary sponsor of the programme is COFORD, new sponsors have also come on board in support of two of the individual PhD research students. One is supported by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), while a second is supported by the Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology (IRCSET), with a Masters student supported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The primary aim of this research programme is to address forest diversity and management, focusing on forest types that are currently being encouraged through State policies and financial incentives. These are the Irish forests of the future, yet very little is currently known about them. Having assessed these woodlands for diversity, a number of long term monitoring sites will be established and a monitoring programme compiled. The overall research programme comprises four discrete, interlinked projects, each with their own specific objectives outlined below.
PLANFORBIO also supports national strategic objectives of increasing the number of PhDs being trained in Ireland and will ultimately build research capacity that underpins a very important sustainable national industry.
Managing for biodiversity in a range of Irish forest types
- To determine the biodiversity of second rotation forests at different stages of the forest cycle, forests composed of different mixes of tree species, forests under the Native Woodland Scheme and rehabilitated native woodlands.
- To make inter-forest type comparisons and comparisons with data from BIOFOREST project sites to build a picture of the variety of forests in Ireland today.
- To identify indicators of biodiversity for different forest types and describe monitoring techniques for the future in permanently marked study sites.
- To identify measures which may be used to enhance the biodiversity of the different forest types, including second rotation forests, first rotation mixes under conventional afforestation and those under the Native Woodland Scheme.
Achieving effective rhododendron control
- To tackle constraints (policy, management and information) on rhododendron control in a practical manner that will (a) lead to protection of environmental quality, and (b) help in the development of alternative methods and skills in control.
Optimum scenarios for Hen Harrier conservation in Ireland
- To increase our knowledge of Hen Harrier ecology and foraging behaviour.
- To determine the value to Hen Harriers of the main habitats in the SPAs.
- To improve our understanding of Hen Harrier habitat requirements at the landscape level, and revise recommendations accordingly, incorporating these into an Indicative Strategy for Hen Harrier management in the SPAs.
- To compile a GIS database of landuse and habitat types within the SPAs, to function both as a tool for decision-making by SPA managers and stake-holders, and as a source of data for researchers.
Implementation of an assessment and monitoring programme for biodiversity in Irish and Scottish forests
- To determine a set of tested indicators of forest biodiversity for the variety of forest types in Ireland: the tool kits for biodiversity assessment.
- To produce practice protocols for forest managers and practitioners.
- To determine forest condition criteria for Irish Native Woodland Scheme forests.
- To create a close collaboration for forest biodiversity research between Britain and Ireland that will lead to synergistic information exchange.
- To predict the future species composition of the variety of Irish forests that will prevail under different climate scenarios.
- To continue the monitoring of permanent plots established during the BIOFOREST project.
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