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History and Ecology of Ballyannan Wood

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History and Ecology


Ballyannan, Baile Ui Anain – O’Hannon’s Homestead

Ballyannan Wood is shown on the Down Survey map of 1654-1656, a French Naval map of Cork Harbour (probably 1792), and in all editions of the Ordnance Survey Maps. Therefore, Ballyannan Wood is an ancient woodland that has been continuously wooded for over 350 years.

Ballyannan Wood was originally owned by the Hodnett family who acquired it after the Anglo-Norman Invasion of 1260-1336. In the piperoll of Cloyne there is reference to the Hodnetts paying an annual rent of 20 s for eight ploughlands in Ballyannan. In 1653 St. John Broderick, a Cromwellian settler, took possession of the estate and he turned their castle into a fortified Tudor mansion. The earliest recorded information about the wood is mainly to be found in letters from the Brodericks to their Irish agents.

In 1760 John Pilkington, a young visitor to Ballyannan castle, mentioned in his diary that the castle was “shaded by lofty limes, elms and oak.” Later in 1782 George Broderick, the 4th Viscount Midleton, wrote to his agent regarding the grafting of oaks after other trees had been cut down in the wood. By 1840 the 5th Viscount Midleton had hired a valuer, Charles Bailey, to investigate the condition of Ballyannan estate. Following Bailey’s advice, a nursery was established in the wood where fruit trees and conifers were propagated until the estate closed in 1964.

Within the wood there are two large holes where gravel was quarried for building and road repairs. There are two dilapidated boathouses – one stone built and the other of a corrugated iron construction. Locals can recall people living in three cottages amongst the trees but only the ruins of the caretaker’s house remain today.

A short channel was dug out from the estuary in the1840s. This remained tidal until 1976 when it was infilled with dredged mud.





Most of the wood has affinities with the oak-ash-hazel woodland habitat type (WN2; see, with occasional less base-rich elements. The infilled channel contains a gradient from reed and large sedge swamp dominated by Sea Club-rush, through Common Reed, to wet willow-alder-ash woodland.

The main canopy species are Sycamore, Beech, Scots Pine, Sitka Spruce and Japanese Larch, with a narrow belt of Oak around the estuarine edge of the wood. Elder dominates the shrub layer, with frequent Sycamore and occasional Holly, Beech, Wych Elm and Hazel.

The field layer ranges from the shade-tolerant extreme of Ivy and mosses, to the light-demanding extreme of thick, tall Bramble. Characteristic vegetation includes Wood Speedwell, Yellow Pimpernel, Enchanter’s-nightshade and shuttlecock ferns. Greater Wood-rush is frequent in places.

The vernal flora is dominated by spectacular displays of Bluebells, but a number of species that might be expected to occur are either scarce (Sanicle, Pignut, Common Dog-violet, Primrose) or absent (Early Dog-violet and Ramsons).


Wood Millet

Wood Millet (a scarce woodland grass species and potential ancient woodland indicator) occurs quite widely on areas of higher ground in the wood, under various canopy species, including Sitka Spruce. Most of the patches found have been along the edges of paths, which are annually cut. However, three patches have been found under Beech canopy, away from paths. The apparent preference for path margins may be exaggerated by sampling bias.

The distribution of this species at Ballyannan suggests that it requires areas where competition from more vigorous species is suppressed either by annual cutting or heavy shade.


Snails and slugs (molluscs)

A total of 35 species were found but species diversity and biomass was low compared to other Irish woodlands. This was due to a number of reasons:

         The lack of open spaces inside the wood. In general, the stands of wood at the edges were better than those at the centre.

         The poor representation of lime loving species, despite the underlying limestone geology. This is generally the situation when the litter becomes acidified from coniferous needles. The species richness was greatest in stands containing broadleaved trees, and reduced in stands that were dominated by conifers (see Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Molluscs vs. Tree species

         The widespread stands of Bluebells in the understorey. Bluebells can be produce copious quantities of slime-rich vegetation that is inimical to snails. Snails and slugs naturally produce mucus slime to allow them to travel over dry ground, and excess external slime can in the worst case drown them, and at best make grazing very difficult.

         Ballyannan Wood has been kept tidy and relatively clean of fallen wood. This means that there is a lack of refuges for molluscs in a climate of essentially hostile acidic litter.

         The lack of running water within the wood, unlike some of the better woodlands for molluscs in the country.

One notable species was recorded: Perforatella subrufescens. This is a scarce species in Ireland, which is particularly associated with old, broad leaved woodland, especially Ash.



69 species were recorded, including 62% and 83%, respectively, of the Irish and Co. Cork faunas associated with oak-ash-hazel woodland.

A good representation of saproxylic (species whose larvae feed on micro-organisms dependent on dead or dying wood, or on the activities of other saproxylics) species were recorded, including three nationally scarce species (Brachyopa insensilis, Brachypalpoides lentus and Criorhina floccosa), probably associated with the overmature broadleaf tree avenue.

Two scarce wetland species were recorded (Melangyna umbellatarum and Orthonevra nobilis), probably associated with the wet willow-alder-ash woodland/reed and large sedge swamp.

Species associated with grassy clearings are under-represented in the Ballyannan oak-ash-hazel woodland fauna compared to those tolerant of closed-canopy conditions (see Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Hoverfly Habitat Requirements

Analysis of the microhabitat associations of the hoverfly fauna indicates the importance of dead wood habitats and grassy clearings. The willow woodland and marsh habitat adds significantly to the hoverfly diversity of the wood, despite its relatively small size. Within the wood, floral resources for adult hoverflies (who generally prefer open-structured flowers) are very limited, especially in early summer.

The results of this survey indicate that the following management measures would benefit the hoverfly biodiversity of Ballyannan Wood:

1.      The willow woodland and marsh area make an important contribution to the hoverfly biodiversity and should be maintained.

2.      Creation of wet habitat within the wood would allow additional species to colonise. There are two areas where the ground remains wet through the summer. Small ponds could be created in these areas.

3.      The overmature trees provide important hoverfly habitats and should be retained. Actions such as removal of dead boughs should be avoided. New dead wood habitat could be provided by creating artificial rotholes in stumps.

4.      Regular cutting of some bramble dominated clearings and ride edges would create grassy clearings with a more diverse vegetation structure. This would provide more breeding habitat for several species, as well as increasing the floral resources available for adult hoverflies to feed on.

5.      Planting of hawthorn in selected locations along ride edges would provide floral resources for hoverflies in early summer.



We carried out a breeding bird survey using the territory mapping method between April and June 2003. We recorded the following species as breeding, or probably breeding: Little Egret, Grey Heron, Mallard, Woodpigeon, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Treecreeper, Jay, Magpie, Hooded Crow and Chaffinch. Long-eared Owls also probably breed in Ballyannan Wood

The distributions of the seven Blackcap territories and 10-14 Chiffchaff territories reflect the association of these species with areas of scrub and edge habitat along rides.

The distributions of the hole-nesting species (Blue Tit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and Treecreeper) indicate that large areas of the wood are unsuitable for these species due to the dominance of multi-stemmed Sycamores. These trees do not provide suitable nest sites.



A bat survey on 27 July 2003 recorded five species of bats: Common Pipistrelle, Soprano Pipistrelle, Brown Long-eared Bat, Leisler's Bat and Whiskered Bat. Whiskered Bat is listed as indeterminate in the Irish Red Data Book. The amount of bat activity was low for such a large area of woodland.


Other fauna

The Speckled Bush-cricket occurs in areas of dense bramble in, and around Ballyannan Wood. This is a scarce species in Ireland, although it is the commonest of the bush-crickets that occur in Ireland. It can be a difficult species to find, due to its liking for dense bramble, and its almost inaudible stridulations. However, it can be readily located using bat detectors.

A population of Red Squirrels occurs in Ballyannan Wood. The squirrels can be difficult to see but their feeding signs are often evident. These are pine and spruce cones with the scales removed, apart from at the tip, and with a characteristic frayed base.

Three Badger setts occur in Ballyannan Wood.



History: Iain Hill

Vegetation: commissioned report from Sylvan Consulting Ecologists; Tom Gittings

Molluscs: commissioned report from Evelyn Moorkens

Hoverflies: Tom Gittings

Birds: Phil Davis, Tom Gittings, Paul Moore, Tony Nagle, Denis O’Sullivan, Pat Smiddy and Mark Shorten

Bats: Conor Kelleher, and members of the Cork Bat group

Other fauna: Tom Gittings


Scientific names



Ash (Fraxinus excelsior), Beech (Fagus sylvatica), Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta), Bramble (Rubus fruticosus AGG.), Common Dog-violet (Viola riviniana), Common Reed (Phragmites australis), Early Dog-violet (Viola reichenbachiana), Elder (Sambucus nigra), Enchanter's-nightshade (Circaea lutetiana), Greater Wood-rush (Luzula sylvatica), Hazel (Corylus avellana), Holly (Ilex aquifolium), Ivy (Hedera helix), Japanese Larch (Larix kaempferi), Oak (Quercus sp.), Pignut (Conopodium majus), Primrose (Primula vulgaris), Ramsons (Allium ursinum), Sanicle (Sanicula europaea), Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), Sea Club-rush (Bolboschoenus maritimus), Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis), Sycamore (Acer psuedoplantanus), Wood Millet (Millium effusum), Wood Speedwell (Veronica montana), Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra), Yellow Pimpernel (Lysimachia nemorum).



Badger (Meles meles), Blackbird (Turdus merula), Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), Brown Long-eared Bat (Plecotus auritus), Blue Tit (Parus caeruleus), Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs), Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), Coal Tit (Parus ater), Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus), Dunnock (Prunella modularis), Goldcrest (Regulus regulus), Great Tit (Parus major), Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea), Hooded Crow (Corvus corone cornix), Jay (Garrulus glandarius), Leisler's Bat (Nyctalus leisleri), Little Egret (Egretta garzetta), Long-eared Owl (Asio otus), Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatos), Magpie (Pica pica), Mallard (Anas platyrhychos), Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), Robin (Erithacus rubecula), Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus), Speckled Bush-cricket (Leptophytes punctatissima), Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos), Treecreeper (Certhia familiaris), Whiskered Bat (Myotis mystacinus), Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus), Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes).