Avian Diversity and Afforestation Planning Tools

Partners: University College Cork & BirdWatch Ireland
Funding Body: Department of Agricutlure, Food & the Marine
Duration: December 2013 - December 2015


Project Background
Conservation of threatened habitats and species is required by European and Irish laws. Sustainable forest expansion that is compatible with conservation requires support from scientific studies of the ecological response to afforestation. While a number of studies have investigated the bird communities of many types of forest and woodlands in Ireland, little comparable work has been undertaken to date on the impacts of afforestation on bird communities of rare and vulnerable habitats. This study set out to inform forest policy formulation and management practices that achieve a balance between the competing demands of timber production and environmental sustainability in our forests.


This project set out to identify the risks posed by forest planting to vulnerable habitats and bird species in Ireland, and to ensure that forest expansion targets are met without compromising vulnerable habitats or bird species. The objectives were achieved using a combination of archived and newly collected data and will identify forest establishment and management measures to protect habitats and species and mitigate negative effects. Recent planting trends were reviewed to identify vulnerable habitats and species and new data were collected on the impact of forest expansion on conservation in these habitats. A case study of Merlin was undertaken to assess habitat selection in relation to forest habitats and the potential impacts of afforestation and forest management on Merlin conservation in Ireland.


Research Methods
A survey of public perception of bird conservation in relation to forest expansion in Ireland was undertaken in 2014. Archived data were used to investigate the impact of forest expansion on protected birds and habitats in Ireland in relation to the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. During the 2014 bird breeding season fieldwork was conducted on bird communities in open habitats (wet grassland, improved grassland, raised bog and blanket bog) across the island of Ireland in order to investigate the effect of forest proximity on bird communities in these habitats. A case study of the use of forests by merlin in Ireland used data collected over the past 40 years and was undertaken in collaboration with a number of ornithology researchers. 

The findings of this study were used to derive recommendations for the management of forest expansion in Ireland in relation to future afforestation targets which will deliver this expansion in a manner that is compatible with conservation of birds and habitats.


Workshop and consultation
The findings of this research were presented at a workshop in June 2015. Discussion groups wre held as part of this workshop where attendees were given the opportunity to review project recommendations in collaboration with the project team.



  • Corkery, I., S. Irwin, J. Quinn, U. Keating, J. Lusby & J. O'Halloran (2020). Changes in forest cover result in a shift in bird community composition. Journal of Zoology 310: 306-314. Corkeryetal2020JZool
  • Lusby J, Corkery I, McGuiness S, Fernández-Bellon D, Toal L, Norriss D, Breen D, O’Donaill A, Clarke D, Irwin S, Quinn JL & O’Halloran J. 2017. Breeding ecology and habitat selection of Merlin Falco columbarius in forested landscapes. Bird Study 64: 445-454 Lusby et al 2017 BS



University College Cork:

BirdWatch Ireland:

  • Researcher: John Lusby


Forest Ecology

Dept. of Zoology, Ecology & Plant Science, University College Cork, Distillery Fields, North Mall, Cork