MU awarded state funding for ancient woodlands inventory

Dr John Devaney of MU's Department of Biology
Wednesday, December 13, 2023 - 13:00

A pioneering project led by Maynooth University to tackle major gaps in understanding the extent and condition of Ireland’s ancient woodlands has received funding of €1.2 million under a Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Marine award programme.

The ‘Ancient Woodlands Ireland’ project will undertake a complete all-island ancient woodlands inventory to identify priority sites for conservation and restoration. The project, which is receiving grant funding from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), was announced today by Minister Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State for Research & Development, Martin Heydon. It is co-funded by the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Ancient woodlands are irreplaceable habitats of high biodiversity value. They also provide additional ecosystem services such as long-term carbon storage as well as containing features of historical and cultural significance. Ireland’s ancient woodlands are believed to have remained continuously wooded since at least 1660.

The multi-disciplinary consortium behind the project is led by Dr John Devaney of MU’s Department of Biology. It also includes researchers from Teagasc and Dundalk Institute of Technology (DkIT) as well as researchers from a number of departments in Maynooth University. They include Dr Helen Shaw of the Department of Geography and ICARUS, Professor Fiona Walsh of the Department of Biology and MU historian Dr Eamon Darcy.

“This is a truly multidisciplinary project that will complete a national inventory of ancient woodlands in Ireland,” Dr Devaney said. “The funding provided by DAFM will enable us to combine cutting-edge machine learning approaches to forest mapping, examination of ancient pollen and DNA from forest soils, and in-depth exploration of centuries old archival maps and texts. Collectively, this will aid the identification of priority sites for ancient woodland conservation and restoration.”

The funding was awarded under the DAFM Thematic Research Call 2023 and was announced at an event in DAFM’s Backweston campus, Co Kildare. Of the €1.2 million awarded, €860,291.44 goes directly to MU with the rest of the funding going to the other partners.

The DAFM’s biennial research call awards over €20 million in funding for pioneering research in areas such as climate mitigation, biodiversity, sustainable farming, animal health and safe, sustainable food.

Speaking at the announcement, Minister Charlie McConalogue said: "I am delighted to announce funding of over €24 million for 20 research projects arising from the 2023 Thematic Research Call. The work funded under our research calls is essential to equip farmers, foresters, and the wider agri-food sector with the tools needed to improve their economic, environmental, and social sustainability in the years ahead."

Minister of State Martin Heydon added: “The capacity and capability provided by our national agri-food, forest and bioeconomy research base, which we are further building today, is critical to underpinning our future competitiveness and sustainability at a time of increasing uncertainty and challenges. It is therefore vital that the results and outcomes of the research are communicated and translated into innovations, technologies, products, policies, or other important deliverables so that this public good research has real world impact. I congratulate the twenty project coordinators and wish them and their teams every success over the coming years.”