How can forest management benefit bird communities? Evidence from eight years of research in Ireland

  • Steven O'Connell
  • Sandra Irwin
  • Mark W. Wilson
  • Oisín F. McD. Sweeney
  • Thomas C. Kelly
  • John O'Halloran
Keywords: afforestation, birds, biodiversity, conservation, forest management, growth rate stage, non-crop vegetation, ireland, contemporary, bird communities


An extensive programme of research on the breeding bird assemblages of Irish forests has been undertaken since 2001 to improve our understanding of the ways in which forest management can influence bird populations. Data on bird communities were collected from 115 sites across the island of Ireland. The sites included monoculture plantations at various stages of the forest cycle, commercially mature mixed species plantations, native woodlands and open non-forest habitats. Although this work comprised several discrete studies, the overarching aim was to investigate ways in which commercial forest plantations could be managed to improve their value for birds. The bird communities of some open habitats, including low intensity agricultural land and peatland, can be negatively affected by afforestation, but afforestation has the potential to have a more positive impact on the bird communities of intensively managed grasslands. Bird assemblages of native oak (Quercus spp.) and ash (Fraxinus excelsior L.) woodlands are more diverse than those of commercially mature conifer plantations and provide a reference against which to compare plantation forests. The inclusion of native broadleaved trees in conifer plantations can be beneficial for bird populations, at least in part due to diversification of forest vegetation structure. Shrub cover, which is associated with higher bird species richness, is prominent in pre-thicket plantation forests, particularly in the second rotation. The loss of understorey structure after canopy closure leads to a less diverse bird assemblage in the mid to late stages of the forest cycle. In general, forest management practices that promote growth of non-crop vegetation and presence of deadwood, thereby enhancing structural complexity, increase the quality of forest habitats for bird communities. In this paper we provide a summary of the findings from the first eight years of these studies, and discuss their application in achieving “Sustainable Forest Management”.
How to Cite
O’Connell, S., Irwin, S., Wilson, M., Sweeney, O., Kelly, T., & O’Halloran, J. (2012). How can forest management benefit bird communities? Evidence from eight years of research in Ireland. Irish Forestry, 44-57. Retrieved from