A new map has provided updated insights on the types of land in Ireland and how much of the country is covered by each of them. The National Land Cover (NLC) Map of Ireland was created by Ordinance Survey Ireland (OSI) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as part of a new national land cover mapping programme that began in 2018. The work was completed in September 2022, and the map and associated data were published last month.
The NLC Map of Ireland is the first recognized national land cover classification system for Ireland. The map outlines a system of categorizing Irish land types, which is divided into two levels. The ‘Level 1’ classifications include artificial surfaces, exposed surfaces, cultivated land, forest, woodland and scrub, grassland, saltmarsh, and swamp, peatland, heath, and bracken, and waterbodies. Each of these, with the exception of cultivated land, is further subdivided into ‘Level 2’ classifications. For example, the grassland, saltmarsh, and swamp Level 1 class is made up of Level 2 classes including improved grassland, amenity grassland, dry grassland, and wet grassland, and the peatland Level 1 class is made up of Level 2 classes including raised bog, blanket bog, and cutover bog.
The NLC Map of Ireland aims to provide a detailed land assessment of the country. The final report of the new map stated that the European Environment Agency’s Co-ordinated Information on the Environment (CORINE) land cover data series is not suitable for use in detailed land assessments due to its spatial resolution of only 25ha and its classification system, which is based on typical European land cover that is not reflective of land types in Ireland.
The data for the Level 1 classes of the NLC Map of Ireland is outlined in the table below:
Class | Area (ha) | Land cover (%)
— | — | —
Artificial surfaces | 268,016 | 3.79
Exposed surfaces | 133,270 | 1.89
Cultivate land | 427,033 | 6.05
Forest, woodland, and scrub | 1,290,756 | 18.27
Grassland, swamp, and saltmarsh | 3,828,160 | 54.2
Peatland | 462,291 | 6.55
Heath and bracken | 456,916 | 6.47
Waterbodies | 196,799 | 2.79
The figures for each of these classes are different than the figures reported for Ireland in the corresponding classes for the European CORINE map. These variances between the two maps ranged from less than 1% to almost 10%, depending on the class.
At Level 2 land type classification, the top 10 classes according to land cover were improved grassland (41.53% or 2,933,299ha), wet grassland (9.47% or 668,548ha), cultivated land (6.05% or 427,033ha), transitional forest (5.46% or 385,672ha), coniferous forest (3.63% or 256,443ha), blanket bog (3.54% or 249,738ha), wet heath (3.25% or 229,526ha), hedgerows (3.18% or 224,787ha), dry heath (2.82% or 199,256ha), and broadleaf forest and woodland (2.42% or 170,859ha).
The NLC Map of Ireland report also outlines a county-by-county breakdown of these land types (at the Level 1 class). Counties in the east and south have a much higher percentage cover of cultivated land than other regions. Counties Louth, Wexford, and Carlow have the highest percentage of cultivated land cover (27.91%, 27.09%, and 25.04% respectively). Counties Wicklow, Leitrim, and Clare have the highest percentage of forest at 27.09%, 25.71%, and 24.64% respectively. Counties Monaghan and Limerick have the highest proportion of grassland, at 74.95% and 71.87% respectively.
The new map is now available from Tailte Éireann, a recently-established state body which OSI has been amalgamated into. The NLC Map of Ireland provides valuable information for land management, conservation, and planning purposes. It is hoped that this new map will be used to inform future land use decisions in Ireland.