For thousands of years the landscape of Ireland remained covered by forests composed of oak, ash, elm, hazel, yew and other native trees. With the arrival of humans in Ireland, the landscape was fragmented to facilitate farming and, subsequently, cleared of forest to make way for crops and livestock; this left Ireland as one of the least wooded countries in Europe with approximately just 9% covered by forests. However, only 1% is native woodland with the remaining 8% mainly non-native coniferous trees.
Woodlands are composed of a variety of trees and shrubs of differing heights. The layers will normally include a canopy layer of tall trees such as oak and ash, an under storey layer composed of shrubs such as hawthorn, holly and hazel. The ground layer will be made up of a variety of ferns, grasses, sedges and herbaceous plants. This gives a woodland a distinct vertical structure and provides a wide variety of habitats which in turn support a diverse range of flora and fauna.
Dead wood and fallen trees are also important habitats within semi-natural woodlands and they support a wide range of very specialised insects and fungi. The many layers that comprise woodlands therefore make them very important in terms of biodiversity.
Woodlands in Ireland are divided mainly between semi-natural woodlands and other woodland types, mainly commercial plantations. Natural or ‘ancient’ woodland is now very rare and many of our native woodlands are currently under threat, principally from the invasion of non-native species, including rhododendron, laurel, beech, sycamore and spruce. They are also threatened by overgrazing by animals that feed on young broadleaf saplings.
There are a number of different types of semi natural woodlands in Ireland. Oak woodlands are amongst our most familiar woodlands. Very often, they contain a proportion of ash, and birch, with hazel, holly and rowan scattered throughout. Oak woodlands can be found in Killarney, Co. Kerry, the Glen of the Downs, Co. Wicklow and Glenveagh, Co. Donegal, although there are small woods in most counties.
For more information of Woodlands including types of woodlands in Ireland, species and the legislation that protects woodlands download the Notice Nature Woodlands Factsheet