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NFI First cycle (2006)

In 2007, the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture and Food completed the first statistical and multi- resource National Forest Inventory in Ireland. This inventory involved a detailed field survey of Ireland's forests and woodlands. The purpose of the National Forest Inventory is to record and assess the composition and condition of the entire forest estate, both public and private, at national level.

Soon after the formation of the Irish State forest cover in Ireland had fallen to its lowest level in recorded history; in 1928 just 89,000 hectares (ha) or circa 1% of the national land area was under forest cover. During the first 85 years of the 20th century forestry in Ireland was almost exclusively carried out by the State and by 1985 forest and woodland cover had increased to approximately 420,000 hectares. The mid 1980s saw a significant increase in private forest development, with the introduction of EU funded grant schemes aimed at encouraging private land owners, mainly farmers, to become involved in forestry. As a result, the area of national forest estate in Ireland has now increased to approximately 700,000 hectares. Of this, approximately 45% is in private ownership and 55% is in the ownership of Coillte Teoranta (The Irish Forestry Board).

Despite this increase in the amount of forestry in Ireland, the State does not have an inventory of the entire national forest estate. The location and extent of most forests is known and Coillte Teoranta maintains an inventory of its forests. However, the composition and condition of much of the private forest estate is not known. This information is essential to facilitate the sustainable development of our forests. The lack of information on the composition of our forests in relation to timber volumes, and in relation to plant and animal species, is an impediment to the management of the national forest resource.

Approximately 2,050 potential forest plots have been selected at random throughout the country, with the number of plots in each county relative to the size of the county and the level of forestry. Each plot measures 25.2 meters in diameter and comprises approximately 500m². Within each sample plot a variety of information is collected from the tree top to the soil underneath. For example, information is being collected on tree growth and development, with particular emphasis on the presence of any disease or pests, and on the type of plants and animals present in the plot. Soil type and drainage information is also recorded, making it the most comprehensive survey of forest soils ever undertaken.

The underlying technology used in the NFI is an integrated system of hardware and software developed by Institute of Forest Ecosystem Research Ltd (IFER), Czech Republic. It allows for the preparation of a NFI database, background maps, and plot generation. This in turn enables the creation of projects for field teams, and facilitied the field data collection process. Data analysis and results generation are by IFER and the Forest Service.

To facilitate the collection of this information the Forest Service recruited 6 professional foresters. The field data collection began in October 2005 and was completed in November 2006. Data processing and analysis was then undertaken and completed in November 2007. A conference to present the main findings of the NFI was held on the 11th July 2007.Three NFI publications were launched on the 12th December 2007; NFI Methodology, Proceedings of NFI Conference and NFI Results.