Dr Keith Kirby completes vegetation plot monitoring

Keith Kirby

Dr Keith Kirby is one of Wytham Woods' most well-known researchers, having worked here for four decades.

Elizabeth Lettmann

An important long-term data set gathered in Wytham Woods is that of the Dawkins Plots: 163 10×10 m permanent plots established in 1974 by Colyear Dawkins. Dr Keith Kirby has been recording data from these plots over the last 40 years, at 5-10 year intervals. The results provide snapshots of the vegetation at each of these points in time – the 1990s records show the Woods as very grassy because of the high deer pressure; the 2018 dataset records the vegetation at the very onset of Ash Dieback in the Woods; while 2023's data provides a picture of how the disease has affected the woodland flora in its early stages.

Keith has recently completed the final plot during this year's round of monitoring - a task which has taken about 220 hours in total. In Keith's own words, recording the vegetation in the plots is the easy part (lists of vascular plants, dimensions of the trees); finding them can be painful. As deer numbers have decreased over the years, the height and density of bramble has increased, making the work more challenging, and Keith anticipates taking a step back from doing the monitoring when the next round is due in 2028.

"This high quality dataset is one of the few long-term studies of vegetation in the UK," said Nigel Fisher, Conservator of the Woods. "We'd like to thank Keith for his ongoing enthusiasm and professionalism."

Contact us


01865 614460

More news