Atkins were commissioned to conduct habitat surveys in the environs of nine towns in County Mayo, totalling and area of over 113 km2.

Scope of Work

The primary objective of the survey was to produce a GIS database containing information on habitat location, identity, conservation value and threats to biodiversity. A key component of this was the identification of Local Biodiversity Areas (LBAs). The results of the survey will be used to inform the preparation of Local Area Plans.

Methodology

Preliminary mapping of habitats on MapInfo GIS was completed using aerial photography, linear vector mapping and several GIS databases, including NPWS designated areas, soils and forestry cover (FIPS). Additional information on habitats and notable species was collated from extensive consultation with government bodies, NGOs, academics, consultants and others with local knowledge. A search for habitat data in the published literature and unpublished reports was also completed. Targeted field validation of preliminary mapping was performed to finalise habitat classification according to the Heritage Council habitat classification system (Fossitt, 2000) following the draft Heritage Council Guidelines (2005). Field surveys also assessed current and potential conservation value of habitats and threats to biodiversity. Field and desktop results were evaluated, and habitats and habitat complexes of greater than high local conservation value were identified as LBAs.

Outcome

The GIS database included three separate layers for polygon features, linear features and point features, respectively. Over 113 km2 of polygon habitats and 1466 km of linear habitats were mapped. Thirty-six LBAs of high local, regional, national or international value were identified. Several ecological corridors among LBAs and the rural hinterland were identified and evaluated as to continuity and permeability. These included riparian zones, abandoned railways and degraded or improved habitats with the potential for restoration.

The key threats to LBAs were identified, including agricultural intensification, land abandonment, turf-cutting, dumping, drainage and afforestation. Prioritised conservation management recommendations were made for LBAs, including changes to agricultural practices, native woodland creation and NHA designation. Based on the outcomes of the project, recommendations for improvements to the draft Heritage Council habitat mapping guidelines (2005) and the habitat classification system (Fossitt, 2000) were made.