Habitat mapping

Habitat mapping

Habitats are defined areas which are made up of physical features, resources and organisms that plants and animals need to survive. Habitats vary, some will be better in for biodiversity than others. 

What is habitat mapping?

Habitat mapping is a tool used to find out more about the different life forms in an area. 

Habitat mapping can give us a better understanding of our environment and how to protect it. We use habitat mapping to:

    • find out what effect we have on the species
    • manage and protect habitats
    • understand the population and distribution of wildlife
    • predict outcomes for species living there currently or in the future
    • understand if there’ll be problems in the future
    • research specific species

Most habitats are loosely defined by the plant species they support. A record of the plant species that live in a habitat is usually enough to identify the habitat classification.

Habitat classification

In Ireland, habitat mapping is based on Fossitt system promoted by The Heritage Council. It is compatible with the EU Habitats Directive and is carried out following guidelines contained in Best Practice Guidance for Habitat Survey and Mapping 2011.

Fossitt Standard Habitat Classification Scheme

The Fossitt habitat mapping system works on a 3 level hierarchy:

    • Level 1 – similar to a land use survey
    • Level 2 – a refinement of Level 1
    • Level 3 – identification of habitat types similar to the EU Habitats Directive

Fossitt Level 1 classification identifies 11 basic habitat groups which are given codes of one letter and requires little if any fieldwork.

Fossitt Level 2 classification breaks down Level 1 into further subcategories. It includes 30 sub-habitat groups. Each sub-habitat is given a code of two letters. This level may need fieldwork depending on the scale of the survey and the size of the site being looked at.

Fossitt Level 3 classification is a further refinement of Level 2 and always needs fieldwork. It is described by a number added to the Level 2 code. Level 3 classified habitats can be subdivided again to describe local conditions and management.

Fossitt level 1 habitat categories

Level 1 designationDescription
B Cultivated and built land
C Coast land
E Exposed rock and disturbed ground
F Fresh water
G Grassland and marsh
H Heath and dense bracken
L Littoral – Intertidal
M Marine water body
P Peat land
S Sublittoral - Intertidal
W Woodland and scrub