Woodlands, Co. Kilkenny; Ecological Report


This report is written to fulfil the terms of a contract letter (16/6/00) to supply an ecological survey of Woodlands, Kilkenny, including

· inventory of flora, fauna and habitats, especially items of special conservation value covered by National or EU legislation

· management advice to protect key habitats and species

· recommendations to enhance the biodiversity of the whole site

The site was visited in July and August 2000 in company with Mr Kevin Ryan, the Coillte Site Manager.


The site occupies the entire townland of Woodlands, an area of 94ha which lies south-west of Kilkenny about 4km from the outer suburbs. It is generally flat, rising slightly in the south-western half to a high point of 83m (the entrance roadway and north-eastern section is roughly at 78m). The wood is surrounded by a bank and ditch which contains a stream along the southern edge and on part of the western side.

The area is based on limestone though this is thickly covered by glacial till and not exposed. However a sinkhole was mapped at the time of the first Ordnance Survey in the adjoining townland to the east, implying a shallower soil here. The till has a significant proportion of sandstone and shale in it from the Slieve Ardagh hills and develops a gley soil which makes for water retention on the surface, particularly after heavy machinery has been working. The northern half of the area and the south-eastern edge is particularly wet and a small pond exists in the north-east corner. Here some of the remaining trees stand amongst shallow pools of water for much of the year.

A stream crosses the north centre of the wood before turning NE to follow the entrance road. It has been deepened to 1.5m or so and takes water south and east to the Breagagh River. The stream forms a convenient boundary to the two contrasting parts of the wood, the lower flat section which was open fields in 1839 (Map 1) and the slightly raised southern half, then a broad-leaved woodland, presumably of oak, elm and ash.


The wood today (Map 2) is mostly felled though it retains a few stands of spruce near the entrance and scattered bands of Scot's pine within. Large oaks Quercus robur occur in peripheral areas, along the south-eastern and north-western sides but there are only limited areas where the canopies of adjacent trees touch - one of these is close to the windrows that have been built in the west centre. Elsewhere there are small, narrow oaks and ash which have survived the conifer phase and are even now regenerating on the newly cleared floor.

The northern half of the wood retains the old field pattern under the trees though the four house sites are no longer apparent. The ground is generally covered by an early, and still prostrate, growth of brambles Rubus fruticosus, through which other species show. There are some seedlings of oak and ash as mentioned and also of holly Ilex aquifolium, hazel Corylus avellana and willows Salix cinerea and S.caprea. Of herbaceous species bent grass Agrostis canina, tufted hairgrass Deschampsia caespitosa, herb robert Geranium robertianum and shield fern Polystichum setiferum are particularly frequent and there are small patches of rose-bay Chamaerion angustifolium and Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus in many places that are likely to spread. Additional species are

Festuca gigantea giant fescue
Dryopteris dilatata buckler fern
Vicia sepium bush vetch
Potentilla erecta tormentil
Carex flacca glaucous sedge
C.remota distant sedge
Veronica chamaedrys germander speedwell
Luzula multiflora heath woodrush
Veronica officinalis heath speedwell
Prunella vulgaris self-heal Scrophularia nodosa figwwort
Ajuga reptans bugle
Chrysosplenium oppositifolium golden saxifrage
Carex strigosa starved wood sedge
Epipactis helleborine broad-leaved helleborine

These have either survived in situ under the spruce as it opened out or have colonised subsequently and there is no real pattern in the vegetation. Species appear thrown

together, there is open ground between adjacent plants and there is clearly a lot of succession to go through before any form of stability is reached.

The edges of the road itself and the dry ditch that runs E-W across it is a particularly rich source of species, adding wood speedwell Veronica montana, false brome Brachypodium sylvaticum, spindle Euonymus europaeus, privet Ligustrum vulgare, hartstongue Phyllitis scolopendrium, field rose Rosa arvensis, great brome Bromopsis ramosa and elder Sambucus nigra to those listed above.

In damper places such as near the central path soft rush Juncus effusus, sharp-flowered rush J.acutiflorus, needle rush Isolepis setacea, bittercress Cardamine flexuosa, sweet grass Glyceria fluitans and purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria occur with meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria, great willowherb Epilobium hirsutum, fleabane Pulicaria dysenterica, fox sedge Carex otrubae and bindweed Calystegia sepium. The small pond has a little duckweed Lemna minor on its surface and is surrounded by distant sedge Carex remota and marsh bedstraw Galium palustre with creeping bent Agrostis stolonifera further back. A fallen willow Salix cinerea lies across it and a well established colony of small bittersweet Solanum dulcamara is a feature.

A distinct area of young woodland occurs on low-lying ground in the centre of the northern half. It carries open scrub of gorse Ulex europaeus, willow Salix cinerea and hairy birch Betula pubescens with some taller birch and ash further out, leading into Scot's pine. Soft rush Juncus effusus is common as well as Yorkshire fog Holcus lanatus, purple loosestrife Lythrum salicaria and meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria. Also present are

Festuca gigantea giant fescue
Mentha aquatica water mint
Angelica sylvestris wild angelica
Lathyrus pratensis meadow vetchling
Vicia cracca tufted vetch
Potentilla erecta tormentil
Deschampsia caespitosa tufted hairgrass
Chamaerion angustifolium rose-bay

The southern section of the wood is slightly drier though water again accumulates in places. Leaching is more pronounced and the soil is therefore more acidic. There are older and larger oaks standing and different species in the ground layer. Great woodrush Luzula sylvatica, wood sorrel Oxalis acetosella, honeysuckle Lonicera periclymenum and foxglove Digitalis purpurea appear and there is bracken Pteridium aquilinum and young birch Betula pubescens in places. Many of the same species recur, for example rose-bay Chamaerion angustifolium, bramble Rubus fruticosus, buckler fern Dryopteris dilatata and, by the path fox sedge Carex otrubae, but others are new, e.g.

Dryopteris affinis male fern
Hypericum pulchrum shining St John's wort
Cirsium palustre marsh thistle
Lysimachia nemorum yellow pimpernel
Rubus idaeus wild raspberry
Stellaria holostea greater stitchwort

The fringes of this section add to the flora also with enchanter's nightshade Circaea lutetiana, wood avens Geum urbanum, violet Viola riviniana and barren strawberry Potentilla sterilis among the beech near the southern house and water avens Geum rivale (and helleborine Epipactis helleborine) close to the path beside the windrows. To the north-west there is young ash, hazel, hawthorn Crataegus monogyna, blackthorn Prunus spinosa leading out of the marginal hedge with a few alder Alnus glutinosa. False brome Brachypodium sylvaticum, violet Viola riviniana, wood avens Geum urbanum, enchanter's nightshade Circaea lutetiana, distant sedge Carex remota and meadowsweet Filipendula ulmaria are common and there is in addition wood sedge Carex sylvatica, celandine Ranunculus ficaria, wood dock Rumex sanguineus, wood speedwell Veronica montana, primrose Primula vulgaris, wild angelica Angelica sylvestris and the mosses Plagiomnium undulatum, Eurhynchium striatum and E.praelongum. Lords-and-ladies Arum maculatum, wood anemone Anemone nemorosa and early purple orchid Orchis mascula grow on the marginal bank with a considerable amount of holly Ilex aquifolium, hazel Corylus avellana, guelder rose Viburnum opulus and field rose Rosa arvensis. The stream channel where it turns south into the wood adds the large liverworts Plagiochila asplenoides and Conocephalum conica as well as mosses Atrichum undulatum, Isopterygium elegans and species of Barbula and Fissidens.

The summit area is flat and again poorly drained. Soft rush Juncus effusus, jointed rush J.articulatus, bulbous rush J.bulbosus, devilsbit Succisa pratensis and yellow pimpernel Lysimachia nemorum occur here with reed grass Phalaris arundinacea, marsh valerian Valeriana officinalis, bur reed Sparganium erectum, yellow flag Iris pseudacorus, lesser spearwort Ranunculus flammula and water starwort Callitriche stagnalis around the marginal drains. A few plants of smooth-stalked sedge Carex laevigata and oval sedge C.ovalis also grow here.


The wood is now surrounded by agricultural land so is somewhat isolated as a habitat. However it is large enough to support a good selection of mammal species and before the clearfelling, had about 12 species (P.Comerford, pers.comm.). Badger, fox, stoat, hare, rabbit, wood mouse, brown rat, red squirrel, grey squirrel, hedgehog, pygmy shrew and pipistrelle bat have all been seen in the last 10 years though there is little current evidence of red squirrel. Hares are a feature of the site as there is boggy ground adjoining on the south as well as the fields which offer good grazing. The animals take cover in the woodland and relatively large groups may occur in spring. The trees in general are too young to have cavities for roosting bats though some of the beech are likely to have been used when they were standing.

There is no sign of deer in the area and as yet no pine marten, though these could invade in the next few years.

The bird life of the wood includes large species such as pheasant, woodpigeon, woodcock (winter), sparrowhawk, hooded crow and long-eared owl which has probably bred. Kestrels are in the area and could nest in the marginal trees. Smaller birds are those typical of woodlands with some scrub, for example goldcrest, coal tit, treecreeper, chiffchaff, willow warbler, blackcap, spotted flycatcher, chaffinch, redpoll, wren, dunnock, blackbird and robin. Siskins may have occurred in winter depending on the cone crop but do not breed. A feature in winter used to be the wintering thrushes - redwing and fieldfare - and sometimes starling which came to roost there from the surrounding fields. These are likely to concentrate now in the Castleblunden woods since Woodlands has been felled.

Butterflies seen during the summer visit were speckled wood, meadow brown, green-veined white, small tortoiseshell, peacock and clouded yellow and the site is unlikely to be rich in any Lepidoptera because of the limited diversity of food plants. In this respect the limestone hill of Ballykeefe Wood is much more important.


The wood has retained a high level of biodiversity from its former deciduous state and offers excellent potential to develop into a site of conservation importance. It has a good range of plant species associated with base-rich through not highly calcareous soils, including Carex strigosa, C.laevigata, Geum rivale and Epipactis helleborine - species that are rare in Co. Kilkenny. It also contains characteristic species of established woodland, e.g. Festuca gigantea, Veronica montana, Anemone nemorosa, Orchis mascula as well as the shrubs Viburnum opulus, Euonymus europaeus and Rosa arvensis. One of the ecological features is the transition from base-rich to slightly leached conditions on the central rise allowing Luzula sylvatica, L.multiflora, Hypericum pulchrum and Pteridium aquilinum to appear.

No nationally rare or protected species grow in the area and there are no habitats or species of importance in the context of the EU Habitats or Birds Directives.

The diversity of lower plants appears low and there are few sites apart from the stream sides and dry ditches that favour these plants.

No introduced species except for sycamore give rise to concern in this location. The privet along the main access is a former hedging plant and care should be taken that it does not spread into the woodland proper (as it has done elsewhere, e.g. Adare).

The wood seems to have been an important one for local fauna and when new planting is fully established it may be assumed that it will recover this role. Hare is perhaps the most important mammal as suitable habitat for this species has been reduced by agricultural reclamation. Red squirrel also may be able to persist because of the retention of Scot's pine within the new woodland.


It is considered that a semi-natural woodland on these soils would include oak, ash, elm, cherry, willows Salix cinerea, S.caprea, birch Betula pubescens and aspen, with an understorey of hazel, hawthorn, blackthorn, spindle, guelder rose and elder. On this basis it is recommended that aspen Populus tremula and cherry Prunus avium be introduced with the new planting. Both have many associated invertebrates and would enrich this part of the fauna which would in turn increase the diversity of their predators. Hares may be a problem with tree establishment as these species are especially palatable. However the suckering habit of both means that even one or two successfully established individuals will spread to for a group in the future.

The natural regeneration of oak should be favoured where possible as it is likely that the wood contains significant genetic diversity in this species as it has persisted from pre-Famine times.

It should be policy to remove any sycamore or any privet that appears in the woodland proper as soon as it is seen. No non-native plants should be planted for any reason.

The distribution of the herbaceous flora shows little clear pattern and even the less common species are found in several, seemingly distinct areas. In general the richest locations are in and near the pre-existing ditches and hedges, all of which should be retained with as little interference as possible. Herbicides used to control brambles should not be used near such features. The most restricted species of interest, water avens Geum rivale was only seen on the margins of the main path though it is likely to occur elsewhere. There should be no further disturbance on these margins where indicated on Map 2.

Translocation of species around the woodland is not recommended and the natural spread of certain members of the flora should be followed by repeated visits to sample plots.

The introduction of tree boxes for bats and nesting birds would do much to allow the hole nesting species persist and/or colonise a site from which pre-existing hollow trees have been removed.


List of plants recorded in summer 2000

Aethusa cynapium
Agrostis canina
Agrostis stolonifera
Ajuga reptans
Alnus glutinosa
Anemone nemorosa
Angelica sylvestris
Arrhenatherum elatius
Arum maculatum
Betula pubescens
Brachypodium sylvaticum
Brassica rapa
Bromopsis ramosa
Callitriche stagnalis
Calystegia sepium
Cardamine flexuosa
Carex flacca
Carex laevigata
Carex otrubae
Carex ovalis
Carex remota
Carex strigosa
Carex sylvatica
Chamaerion angustifolium
Chrysosplenium oppositifolium
Circaea lutetiana
Cirsium arvense
Cirsium palustre
Cirsium vulgare
Corylus avellana
Crataegus monogyna
Dactylis glomerata
Deschampsia caespitosa
Digitalis purpurea
Dryopteris affinis
Dryopteris dilatata
Dryopteris filix-mas
Elymus repens
Epilobium ciliatum
Epilobium hirsutum
Epilobium montanum
Epilobium obscurum
Epipactis helleborine
Equisetum arvense
Euonymus europaeus
Festuca gigantea
Festuca rubra
Filipendula ulmaria
Galium aparine
Galium palustre
Geranium dissectum
Geranium robertianum
Geum rivale
Geum urbanum
Glyceria fluitans
Heracleum sphondylium
Holcus lanatus
Hypericum pulchrum
Hypericum tetrapterum
Ilex aquifolium
Iris pseudacorus
Isolepis setacea
Juncus acutiflorus
Juncus articulatus
Juncus bulbosus
Juncus effusus
Lathyrus pratensis
Lemna minor
Ligustrum vulgare
Lonicera periclymenum
Luzula multiflora
Luzula sylvatica
Lysimachia nemorum
Lythrum salicaria
Matricaria discoidea
Mentha aquatica
Orchis mascula
Oxalis acetosella
Phalaris arundinacea
Phyllitis scolopendrium
Polystichum setiferum
Potentilla erecta
Potentilla reptans
Potentilla sterilis
Primula vulgaris
Prunella vulgaris
Prunus spinosa
Pteridium aquilinum
Pulicaria dysenterica
Quercus robur
Ranunculus acris
Ranunculus ficaria
Ranunculus flammula
Ranunculus repens
Rosa arvensis
Rosa canina
Rubus fruticosus
Rubus idaeus
Rumex crispus
Rumex obtusifolius
Rumex sanguineus
Salix caprea
Salix cinerea
Sambucus nigra
Scrophularia nodosa
Senecio jacobaea
Senecio vulgaris
Sinapis arvensis
Solanum dulcamara
Sparganium erectum
Stellaria graminea
Stellaria holostea
Stellaria media
Succisa pratensis
Ulex europaeus
Valeriana officinalis
Veronica chamaedrys
Veronica montana
Veronica officinalis
Veronica persica
Veronica serpyllifolia
Viburnum opulus
Vicia cracca
Vicia sepium
Viola riviniana


Atrichum undulatum
Barbula sp
Conocephalum conica
Eurynchium praelongum
Eurynchium striatum
Fissidens sp
Plagiochila asplenoides
Plagiomnium undulatum
Rhytidiadelphus triquetrus
Thamnobryum alopecuroides

Ecological Survey of

Woodlands, Co. Kilkenny

Site of a Millennium Forest

Report for Coillte Ltd

October 2000

Roger Goodwillie & Associates
Lavistown House

*Please note that it was not possible to reproduce figures for inclusion on the website version of the reports.