Forest Health Monitoring

FutMon Project

Further Development and Implementation of an EU-Level Forest Monitoring System (LIFE07 ENV/D/000218) 

Introduction to FutMon

Forests provide economic, ecological and social services, including wood production, biodiversity and carbon storage, and recreation. Responsible forest management and conservation measures underpin the lasting delivery of these services into the future.

Challenges and threats to forest condition include climate change, emissions and deposition of air-borne pollutants and land use change. These challenges and threats are addressed through a range of forest and climate related environmental policies. Policy makers rely on long term, up-to-date, comparable and validated information on the condition and development of processes occurring within forest ecosystems.

These data are used to understand changes in forest biodiversity, cycling and storage of carbon in forests as well as the productive capacity of forests to provide wood, other products and services. The role of forests in flood amelioration is becoming more important as a consequence of climate change.

The role of forest monitoring is to gather relevant, robust long-term information to understand changing processes occurring within the forests of Europe and beyond. These data facilitate and support informed decision-making on the future management of European forests.

The FutMon project represents the evolution of 20 years of forest monitoring addressing current issues of policy concern in the forests of Europe

FutMon forest monitoring network

The European forest monitoring network, FutMon, works at two levels:

•           a large scale survey known as the Level I network (6,000 forest plots);

•           a detailed intensive survey known as the Level II network (900 forest

Location of FutMon Level I and Level II plots in Ireland

FutMon Level I Network: Large scale forest monitoring

The Level I network of forest plots provides information on the current status and changes taking place in forests across Europe. Central to this work is the annual Crown Condition Survey. This survey gathers information annually on tree crown density and uses these data as a measure of forest responses to environmental stress. Forest monitoring plots in the Level I network were selected using a systematic grid of 16 x 16 km covering Ireland and Europe. Of the 6,000 Level I plots in the pan-European network, 37 are located and surveyed each year in Ireland.

Trees are assessed on the basis of defoliation and discolouration observed in the tree crown, and tree mortality and causes of damage are recorded and investigated. More recently a full inventory of soil information and components of forest biodiversity has been recorded at the Level I plots (known as the BioSoil project). Data from Ireland and 38 participating countries are submitted to EU/ICP forests annually. Results from this extensive monitoring work are published annually in The Condition of Forests in Europe and maybe found on the ICP Forests website.

Overall mean percent defoliation and discolouration between 1989 and 2009 (Level I survey)


Year % Defoliation % Discolouration
1989 15.4 12.8
1990 9.5 9.3
1991 14.3 11.4
1992 15.7 11.4
1993 21.8 14.3
1994 18.7 10.2
1995 20.4 13
1996 13.9 5.1
1997 12.9 2.9
1998 15.4 5
1999 12.3 4.8
2000 14.4 4.7
2001 15.8 4.9
2002 17.9 7.3
2003 15.4 6.1
2004 14.9 5.2
2005 16 6.5
2006 9.5 6.2
2007 8.2 6.8
2008 9.6 6.7
2009 9.6 7.4
21 year average 14.3 7.7

FutMon Level II Network: Intensive forest monitoring

Intensive forest monitoring plots are designed to investigate in detail ecological processes occurring within forests. Level II plots are selected across Europe as a representation of the most important forest ecosystems of each country. While these plots are central to the detection of changes in forest processes, they also provide the means to understand and explain the changes observed at the Level I plots.

The European network consists of 900 plots, three of which are located in Ireland. Ballinastoe (Co Wicklow) and Cloosh (Co Galway) are intensively monitored plots located within Sitka spruce plantations while the Brackloon plot (Co Mayo) is located in a semi-natural oakwood.  

Data are collected at each plot on a weekly basis from a range of different surveys. Results and trends observed across Europe over the Level II network are published annually in Forest Condition in Europe, a Technical Report of the European Commission and ICP Forests which maybe found on the ICP Forests website.

List of measurements and timing frequencies made on FutMon Level II Intensively monitored plots.           

Measurement Frequency
Tree growth Weekly and every 5 years
Crown condition Annually
Foliar chemistry Every 2 years
Soil (chemistry and description) Every 10 years
Litterfall Monthly
Deposition Weekly
Air quality Monthly
Soil solution Every 2 weeks
Meteorology Daily
Phenology Weekly
Ground vegetation Every 3 years
Biodiversity Every 5 years
Leaf Area Index Annually
Reconciling monitoring networks One off event

Key FutMon objectives

Today, under the FutMon project, the main aim of the monitoring programme is the collection of forest data which enables scientists and key policy makers to:

Understand the fate of atmospheric pollutants in a range of forest ecosystems, i.e. their accumulation, distribution and release to the environment;

Identify cause-effect relationships and the extent to which air pollution and other abiotic stress factors (storm events, fires, carbon stocks) and biotic factors (invasive species, newly emerging diseases) are responsible for observed changes in forest condition

Review the likely impact of future scenarios of climate change, air pollution, abiotic and biotic stress factors on forest ecosystems;

Contribute to understanding of net carbon sequestration in Irish and other European forests and changes in the global carbon balance;

Determine critical levels and loads of atmospheric pollutants for forests under current and predicted climate conditions;

Develop and test indicators that can be used to assess the long-term sustainability of forest ecosystems;

Develop and test indicators that can be used to assess changes in forest biodiversity.

While these are the overall key objectives of the FutMon project, the forest monitoring programme is flexible enough to accommodate different issues as our understanding increases of forest processes and new methods are tested and developed.

Research Links

The FutMon data form a valuable and unique platform on which other national studies may build. Recently the FORFLUX project is examining these data and reporting long terms trends of nutrient fluxes in Irish forests.  In addition, the HYDROFOR project is also using FutMon data to understand catchment effects of forests on waters. The role that forests play in sequestering carbon from the atmosphere is crucial in mitigating the effects of climate change.  Forests store carbon as biomass through tree growth and also as organic matter in forest soils.  Ongoing monitoring is important to understand any potential changes to these two important forest carbon sinks.  The FutMon data may be used from both the forest growth and forest soils surveys to monitor such changes.

More information

·       FutMon Project Manager
        Fiona Harrington, Coillte, Newtownmountkennedy, Co. Wicklow

 ·     FutMon Project – Further Development and Implementation of an EU-
       Level Forest Monitoring System LIFE07 ENV/D/000218:

·     A new vision of forest monitoring in Ireland and Europe: The FutMon
Coford Connects Note - Environment no. 12.       

·     EC LIFE Nature Unit:

 ·    Forest Service Department of Agriculture and Food:         

·      ICP Forests - International Co-operative Programme on Assessment 
      and Monitoring of Air Pollution effects on Forests

·     University College Dublin; Forest Ecosystem Research Group and 
      UCD Soil Science:         

· or email:

·      Irish Forest Monitoring- web site under construction

·      FORFLUX Project

 ·     HYDROFOR Project