• Native woodlands are made up of native broadleaves, associated shrub and ground layers
  • Semi-natural forests are made up of native broadleaves and some introduced conifers and broadleaves
  • Naturalised woodlands are made up of introduced broadleaves and some native species.
  • Coniferous forests are made up of introduced conifers, mostly planted by the State
  • Grant-aided forests are made up of 60% conifers, 30% broadleaves and 10% biodiversity areas.

Greener future

The government aims to increase forest cover to 15% by 2030 and to include 30% broadleaves and a 20% mix of conifers. Currently broadleaf forests only represent just over 1% of the land area. Schemes have been set up to help regenerate our native woodlands.

Ecosystem services

  • Protecting areas from soil erosion, floods and other harmful weather conditions
  • Reducing risk of local and global climate change
  • Carbon storage (sequestration)
  • Recycling nutrients
  • Controlling pollutants

Economic values

  • Food
  • Medicine
  • Fuel
  • Fibre for clothing
  • Building materials
  • Industrial products


  • Cultural values
  • Aesthetic values
  • Intrinsic (essential) values
  • Diseases – Ireland’s forests are relatively disease free. The reasons for this include: the sea acting as a natural barrier; our current forests are relatively new; and the enforcement of strong forest plant health regulations. However, this situation may change as a result of increased movement of forest plants and wood products between countries which could lead to increased risk of insect pests and diseases (e.g. Ash die back).
  • Insect pests – Ireland’s forests are recognised under the European Union Plant Health Directive as being among the healthiest in Europe. However, most of Ireland’s forests today are made up of introduced conifers, which make them more susceptible to introduced harmful organisms. The increased movement of forest plants and wood products between countries increases the risk of insect pests and diseases.
  • Invasive species – Non-native plant species are a major threat to Ireland’s biodiversity. Non-native species (also known as alien species) can negatively impact on native species, can transform habitats and even threaten whole ecosystems leading to serious problems to the environment and the economy. The number of non-native species affecting Ireland’s forests is currently quite low but their impact can be locally very significant (e.g. Rhododendron).
  • Mammal damage – Young forest plantations are particularly vulnerable to damage by wild or domesticated animals, mostly caused by animals foraging on the shoots of young plants. Trampling can also be a problem in young plantations. Broadleaf forests are particularly susceptible since they do not have strong sharp needles to protect them, like Sitka spruce. Older forest plantations can be affected by deer and grey squirrels. Where deer number are high, bark stripping of tree trunks is common.  The grey squirrel is a serious pest of broadleaf forests, it strips the bark on branches and the main stems between the thicket and pole stage. This causes multiple forking of the main stem and can lead to the tree top dying back.
  • Wind damage – One of the main threats to Ireland’s forests is wind damage. During heavy storms, huge areas can become windblown. All stages of forests are susceptible, from young plantations to older ones.
  • Frost damage – Native species are generally well suited to the climatic conditions here, their growth and dormancy cycles are synchronised with the seasons. However, non-native species are not and therefore leaves them more vulnerable to frost damage. When introducing new non-native species, it is essential that foresters test the species adaptability before planting them.
  • Climate change – Climate Change is a global issue and is the primary environmental challenge of the century. Planning for a change is difficult, trees have long life cycles and those that are being planted today may experience a very different climate by the time they mature depending on the speed of change in climate. Different tree species will suffer in different ways. For example, our native broadleaf trees generally prefer warmer conditions and so a rise in summer temperature could benefit their growth and development. While species that originate from cool temperate forests such as Sitka spruce could suffer if droughts become more common.
  • Fire – Luckily Ireland does not experience large scale devastating forest fires like some drier countries. However, fires do occur. The highest fire risk occurs between February and May in young plantations where dead ground vegetation has built up and begins to dry out. The practice of burning gorse and heather is also a major threat to Ireland’s forests. Vast areas of forest are lost to fire each year as a result of burning practices.
Biodiversity (or biological diversity) is our life support system. It is the variety of all life forms on Earth, from the tiniest bugs living in the soil, to the butterflies, the plants they feed on, to the largest of the deer in the forest, the red deer.

Ireland’s forests and woodlands are important habitats and support a huge array of flora and fauna (biodiversity).

Invertebrates are the most diverse and abundant form of life you will find in the forest. Lift any rock or log and you will find all sorts of creepy crawlies! Invertebrates include; spiders, beetles, woodlice, snails, worms, ants, butterflies, caterpillars and many more. Many of these invertebrates live in very specific micro-habitats and can be very sensitive to change.

About 28% of our bird species are considered as woodland species. Many of the bird species feast on the invertebrates listed above. Some of the species found in our woods include; chaffinch, robin, wren, various tits, wood pigeon, treecreeper, jay, blackbird and goldcrest. Two bird species that have returned to Ireland’s forests are the buzzard and the great spotted woodpecker.

Many of Ireland’s mammals happily live both within and outside our forests. Mammal species include all deer species, badger, fox, red and grey squirrel, otter, pine marten, stoats, hedgehog, wood mice, and a number of bat species such as whiskered, natterers and lesser horseshoe.

Domestic species, such as sheep and cattle can also be part of the woodland habitat and in some cases play an important role. With the right amount of grazing, biodiversity can increase and the structure of the woodland can be varied.

  • Alder
  • Ash
  • Aspen
  • Birch (downy)
  • Birch (silver)
  • Cherry (wild)
  • Cherry (bird)
  • Blackthorn
  • Crab apple
  • Hazel
  • Hawthorn
  • Holly
  • Juniper
  • Oak (pedunculate)
  • Oak (sessile)
  • Rowan/Mountain ash
  • Scots pine
  • Strawberry tree
  • Whitebeam
  • Willow
  • Wych elm
  • Yew
  • Sweet chestnut
  • Beech
  • Sycamore
  • Sitka spruce
  • Norway spruce
  • Douglas fir
  • Larch
  • Western red cedar
  • Lodgepole pine
Timeline % of Forest Cover (approx.) Events Dominant Species
12000 BC 0% – 60% The Ice age ended and the landscape gradually changed from tundra to pioneer forests. Juniper, birch, willow and hazel
10000 BC 60% The temperature began to rise and encouraged further growth. The tundra landscape was replaced by forests and grasslands. Oak and Scots pine dominated these forests
8000 BC 60% – 20% Temperature decreased dramatically and remained low for the next 600 years. This resulted in a huge drop in forest cover.
6000 BC 20% – 95% Temperatures increased and the great forests emerged. Oak, elm and Scots pine
4000 BC 95% – 98% Natural forests increased and reached climax woodland stage. Oak, elm, alder, Scots pine, ash, holly and hazel
2000 BC 98% – 60% Temperatures decrease again and the climate becomes wetter. Bogs continue to develop. Neolithic settlers began clearing forests for fuel and farming. Oak, alder, Scots pine, ash, holly and hazel
0 AD 60% – 30% Further conversion from forests to farmland. Bogs spread; resulting in loss of Scots pine. Oak, alder, ash, holly and hazel
2000 AD 30% – 1% Forests were in serious decline during the 18th century. Non natives were introduced. Introduced species – beech, sycamore, sweet chestnut, lime, Scots pine, European larch, Norway spruce, Douglas Fir, lodgepole pine, Japanese larch
2015 AD 10% Most of the forests are planted (State programme initiated 1904).