Dr Keith Kirby

Research interests

Temperate forest ecology, management and conservation; grazing in wooded systems


My work is focussed on issues relating to the conservation and management of British woodland, drawing on the experience of more than thirty years with the Natural England and its predecessors.

Long-term vegetation changes in woodland

In the early 1970s a former member of the Department – Colyear Dawkins established long-term vegetation plots across Wytham Woods and The Warburg Reserve in Oxfordshire.  These have been resurveyed several times since and work in currently underway to analyse these data in terms of differences in woodland composition and history, and in relation to management versus environmental drivers. Other related work looks at vegetation development in plantations that were originally surveyed in the 1980s.  From these studies it may be possible to project some of the effects of future disturbances including that from the impact of ash dieback.

Using historical records to understand current woodland composition and structures.

The diaries of Charles Elton, from the 1940s to 1970s have recently become available.  We are using these to explore changes in the sites he visited during this time, particularly Wytham Woods. How have the woods, the conservation issues, or our interpretation of them changed since he made his observations.

Grazing in woodland systems, from wood-pastures to rewilding.

Large herbivores are part of both natural and cultural woodland systems in Britain.  There has been a great increase in traditional wood-pasture systems for their high biodiversity value, but also because of suggestions that they may function as analogues of pre-Neolithic natural landscapes in Europe. This has led to large herbivores being a major element of some rewilding proposals.  I am interested in exploring just how influential the role of the herbivores was (and is) in shaping tree-ed landscapes.

Contact details


+44 07557 282711

Publications since 2011

Kirby, K. J., Goldberg, E. A., Isted, R., Perry, S. C. & Thomas, R. C. (2016). Long-term changes in the tree and shrub layers of a British nature reserve and their relevance for woodland conservation management. Journal for Nature Conservation, 31, 51-60.

Kirby, K.J. (2016). Charles Elton and Wytham Woods. British Wildlife 27, 256-263. 

Kirby K J & Watkins, C (editors) (2015) Europe’s changing woods and forests: from wildwood to managed landscapes. CABI,Wallingford, UK.

Kirby, K.J. (2015) Changes in the vegetation of clear-fells and closed canopy stands in an English oak wood over a 30-year period.  New Journal of Botany, 5, 1-12

Plieninger, T., Hartel, T., Martín-López, B., Beaufoy, G., Bergmeier, E., Kirby, K., Montero, M. J., Moreno, G., Oteros-Rozas, E. & Van Uytvanck, J. (2015) Wood-pastures of Europe: Geographic coverage, social–ecological values, conservation management, and policy implications. Biological Conservation, 190, 70-79.

Kirby, K.J. (2015) What might a sustainable population of trees in wood-pasture sites look like? Hacquettia, 14, 43-52.

Bernhardt-Römermann, M., Baeten, L., Craven, D., De Frenne, P., Hédl, R., Lenoir, J., Bert, D., Brunet, J., Chudomelová, M., Decocq, G., Dierschke, H., Dirnböck, T., Dörfler, I., Heinken, T., Hermy, M., Hommel, P., Jaroszewicz, B., Keczyński, A., Kelly, D. L., Kirby, K. J., Kopecký, M., Macek, M., Máliš, F., Mirtl, M., Mitchell, F. J.G., Naaf, T., Newman, M., Peterken, G., Petřík, P., Schmidt, W., Standovár, T., Tóth, Z., Calster, H. V., Verstraeten, G., Vladovič, J., Vild, O., Wulf, M. and Verheyen, K. (2015) Drivers of temporal changes in temperate forest plant diversity vary across spatial scales. Global Change Biology, 21, 3726–3737.

Willis, K.J. & Kirby, K.J. (2015) Biodiversity  in the green economy: what biodiversity do we need? In Biodiversity in the Green Economy, (eds A Gasparatos &K J Willis), Routledge, London, pp.19-31.

Kirby, K.J., Bazely, D.R.,  Goldberg, E.A., Hall, J.E., Isted, R., Perry, S.C., & Thomas, R.C. (2014) Changes in the tree and shrub layer of Wytham Woods (Southern England) 1974-2012: local and national trends compared. Forestry 87 (5), 663-673.

Smart, S. M., Ellison, A. M., Bunce, R. G. H., Marrs, R. H., Kirby, K. J., Kimberley, A., Scott, A. W. & Foster, D. R. (2014) Quantifying the impact of an extreme climate event on species diversity in fragmented temperate forests: the effect of the October 1987 storm on British broadleaved woodlands. Journal of Ecology, 102, 1273-1287.

McMahon, S.M., Bebber, D.P., Butt, N., Crockatt, M., Kirby, K.J., Parker, G.G., Riutta, T. and Slade, E.M. (2014) Ground based LiDAR demonstrates the legacy of management history to canopy structure and composition across a fragmented temperate woodland. Forest Ecology and Management 335, 255-260

Kirby, K.J. & Perry,S.C. (2014) Institutional arrangements of wood-pasture management: past and present in the UK,  In Hartel, T. & Pleininger, T. (eds) European wood-pastures in transition, Earthscan/Routledge, Abingdon, UK, pp254-270.

Kirby, K.J. & Baker, A. (2013) The dynamics of pre-Neolithic landscapes and their relevance to modern conservation.  In Trees, forested landscapes and grazing animals, edited by I.D. Rotherham, Earthscan,Routledge, Abingdon,  pp87-98.

Kimberley, A., Blackburn, G.A., Whyatt,J.D., Kirby, K.J. & Smart, S.M. (2013)  Identifying the trait syndromes of conservation indicator species: how distinct are British ancient woodland indicator plants fromother woodland species?  Applied Vegetation Science 16, 667-675.

De Frenne, P.,  Rodríguez-Sánchez, F., Coomes, D.A., Baeten, L., Verstraeten, G., Vellend, M., Bernhardt-Römermann, M., Brown, C.D., Brunet, J., Cornelis, J., Decocq, G., Dierschke, H., Eriksson, O., Gilliam, F.S., Hédl, R., Heinken, T., Hermy, M., Hommel, P., Jenkins, M.A., Kelly, D.L., Kirby, K.J., Mitchell, F.J.G., Naaf, T., Newman, M., Peterken, G.F., Petřík, P., Schulz, J., Sonnier, G., Van Calster, H., Waller, D.M., Walther, G-R., White, P.S., Woods, K., Wulf, M., Graae, B.J. & Verheyen, K.  (2013)  Microclimate moderates plant responses to macroclimate warming. Proceedings National Academy of Science USA 110(46),18561-18565 http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/10/23/1311190110.full.pdf+html

Marrs, R.H., Kirby, K.J., Le Duc, M.G., McAllister,H. Smart, S.M., Oksanen, J., Bunce, R.G.H. & Corney, P.M.  (2013) Native dominants in British woodland: a potential cause of reduced species richness.  New Journal of Botany, 3, 156-168. 

Verheyen, K., Baeten, L., De Frenne, P., Bernhard-Romermann, M, Brunet, J., Cornelis,  J., Decoq, G., Dierschke, H, Eriksson, O., Hedl, R., Heinken, T., Hermy, M., Hommel, P., Kirby, K.J., Naaf, T., Peterken, G.F., Petrik, P., Pfadenhauer, J., Van Calster, H., Walther, G-R., Wulf, M. & Verstraeten, G.  (2012) Driving factors behind the eutrophication signal in understorey plant communities of deciduous temperate forests.  Journal of Ecology 100,  352-365. 

Tanentzap, A., Kirby, K.J. & Goldberg, E.A. (2012)  Slow responses of ecosystems to reductions in wild ungulates and strategies for achieving recovery.  Forest Ecology and Management 264, 159-166

Kirby,K.J., Pyatt, D.G.&  Rodwell, J. (2012)  Characterization of the woodland flora and woodland communities in Britain using Ellenberg Values and Functional Analysis.  In Working and Walking in the Footsteps of Ghosts: volume 1,  the wooded landscape’, edited by I D Rotherham, M Jones, C Handley, Wildtrack Publishing, Sheffield pp66-86

Kirby, K J  (2012)  A view from the past to the future.  In Historical  environmental variations in conservation and natural resource management, edited by J A Wiens, G D Hayward, H D Safford, C M Giffen, Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, pp281-288.


Selected earlier publications

Hughes, F.M.R, Stroh, P.A., Adams, W.M., Kirby, K.J., Mountford, O. & Warrington, S.  (2011) Monitoring and evaluating large-scale, ‘open-ended’ habitat creation projects: a journey rather than a destination.  Journal of Nature Conservation 19, 245-253

Marrs, R.H. Le Duc, M.G., Smart, S.M., Kirby, K.J, Bunce, R.G.H. & Corney, P.M. (2011) Aliens or Natives: who are the ‘Thugs’ in British woods? Kew Bulletin 65, 1-11.

Quine, C.P., Cahalan, C., Hester, A., Humphrey, J., Kirby, K.J., & Moffat, A.  (2011).  National Ecosystem Assessment – Woodlands.  http://uknea.unep-wcmc.org/Resources/tabid/82/Default.aspx

Savill, P S, Perrins, C, Kirby, K J & Fisher, N  (2010)  Wytham Woods, Oxford’s Ecological Laboratory.  Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Petrokofsky, G., Brown, N., Hemery, G, Woodward S., Wilson, E, Weatherall, A, Stokes, V.,Smithers, R., Sangster, Russell, K., Pullin, A., Price C., Morecroft, M., Malins, M., Lawrence, A., Kirby, K., Godbold, D., Charman, E., Boshier, D., Bosbeer, S. &  Arnold, M.  (2010) A participatory process for identifying and prioritizing policy-relevant research questions in natural resource management: a case study from the UK forestry sector.  Forestry, 83, 357-367.

Kirby, K.J., Perry, S.C. & Brodie-James, T.  (2010) Possible implications of new tree diseases for nature conservation.  Quarterly Journal of Forestry, 104, 77-84.

Kirby, K.J., Jefferson, R., Larwood, J., Russell, D., Le Bas, B. & Wright, R.  (2010) What has the SSSI improvement programme achieved for nature conservation in England? British Wildlife, 22, 16-25.

Hodder, K.H., Buckland, P.C., Kirby, K.J. & Bullock, J.M.  (2009) Can the pre-Neolithic provide suitable models for re-wilding the landscape in Britain?  British Wildlife, 20, (supplement) 4-15.

Kirby, K.J. (2009) Policy in or for the wilderness?  British Wildlife, 20, (supplement) 59-63.

Kirby, K J, Quine, C P & Brown, N D  (2009)  The adaptation of UK forests and woodlands to climate change.  In Combating climate change: a role for UK forests, editors D J Read, P H Freer-Smith, J I L Morison, N Hanley, C C West & P Snowdon,  pp164-179. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh.

Kirby, K J (2009)  Effect of the shift from coppice to high forest in English Woods on the woodland flora.  In Woodland cultures in time and space, editors E Saratsi, M Burgi, E Johann, K J Kirby, D Moreno, C Watkins, Embryo Publications, Athens, pp155-162.

Mihok, B., Kenderes, K., Kirby, K.J., Paviour-Smith, K. & Elbourn, C.A.  (2009) Forty-year changes in the canopy and the understorey in Wytham Woods.  Forestry 82 515-527.

Corney, P.M., Kirby, K.J., Le Duc, M.G., Smart, S.M., McAllister, H.A. & Marrs, R.H  (2008) Changes in the field-layer of Wytham Woods - assessment of the impacts of a range of environmental factors controlling change.  Journal of Vegetation Science 19, 287-298.

Goldberg, E.A., Kirby, K.J., Hall, J.E. & Latham, J.  (2007) The ancient woodland concept as a practical conservation tool in Great Britain.  Journal of Nature Conservation 15, 109-119.

Hopkins, J. & Kirby, K.J.  (2007) Ecological change in British broadleaved woodland since 1947.  IBIS (supplement) 149, 29-40.

Wesche, S., Kirby, K.J. & Ghazoul, J.  (2006) Plant assemblages in British beech woodlands within and beyond native range: Implications of future climate change for their conservation, Forest Ecology and Management 236, 385-392.

Corney, P.M., Le Duc, M.G., Smart, S.M., Kirby, K.J., Bunce,R.G.H. & Marrs, R.H. (2006) Relationships between the species composition of forest field-layer vegetation and environmental drivers, assessed using a national scale survey.  Journal of Ecology  94, 383–401.

Kirby, K.J., Smart, S.M., Black, H.I.J., Bunce, R.G.H.,Corney,P.M.and Smithers,R.J. (2005)  Long term ecological change in British woodland (1971-2001).  Peterborough: English Nature (Research Report 653).

Hodder, K.H., Bullock, J.M., Buckland, P.C. & Kirby, K.J. (2005)  Large herbivores in the wildwood and modern naturalistic grazing systems.  Peterborough: English Nature (Research Report 648).

Corney, P. M., Le Duc, M. G., Smart, S. M., Kirby, K. J., Bunce, R. G. H., Marrs, R. H., (2004) The effect of landscape-scale environmental drivers on the vegetation composition of British woodlands. Biological conservation 120, 491-505.

Kirby, K J  (2004)  A model of a natural wooded landscape in Britain driven by large-herbivore activity.  Forestry, 77, 405-420.

Kirby, K J (2003) Ten years of experience of the woodland section of the British National Vegetation Classification.  In National Vegetation Classification –ten years’ experience of using the woodland section, edited by E A Goldberg, pp7-14, Joint Nature Conservation Committee Report 335, Peterborough.

Kirby, K J (2003) Woodland conservation in privately-owned cultural landscapes: the English experience.  Environmental Science and Policy, 6, 253-259.

Kirby, K J, Latham, J., Holl, K., Bryce, J., Corbett, P. & Watson, R. (2002).  Objective setting and condition monitoring within woodland sites of special scientific interest.  Peterborough, English Nature (Research Report 472).

Kirby, K J (2001) The impact of deer on the ground flora of British broadleaved woodland.  Forestry, 74, 219-229.

Hall, J E, Kirby, K J, & Whitbread, A M (2001).  National Vegetation Classification field guide to woodland.  Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.

Kirby, K J & Thomas, R C (2000) Changes in the ground flora in Wytham Woods, southern England, from 1974 to 1991 - implications for nature conservation.  Journal of Vegetation Science, 11, 871-880.

Kirby, K J & Morecroft, M D (2000) Long term studies in British woodland.  English Nature (English Nature Science 34),Peterborough.  129pp.

Kirby K J & Woodell S R J (1998) The distribution and growth of bramble (Rubus fruticosus) in British semi-natural woodland and the implications for nature conservation.  Journal of Practical Ecology and Conservation 2, 31-41.

Kirby, K J, Reid, C M, Thomas, R C, & Goldsmith F B (1998)  Preliminary estimates of fallen dead wood and standing dead trees in managed and unmanaged forests in Britain.  Journal of Applied Ecology 35, 148-155.

Kirby K J & Watkins, C (editors) (1998) The ecological history of European forests.  CABI, Wallingford.

Thomas, R C, Kirby, K J & Reid, C M (1997) The conservation of a fragmented ecosystem within a cultural landscape - the case of ancient woodland in England.  Biological Conservation 82, 243-252.

Kirby, K J, Thomas, R C & Dawkins, H C (1996).  Monitoring of changes in tree and shrub layers in Wytham Woods (Oxfordshire), 1974-1991.  Forestry 69, 319-334.

Hester, A J, Mitchell, F J G  & Kirby K J (1996)  Effects of season and intensity of sheep grazing on tree regeneration in a British upland woodland.  Forest Ecology and Management 88, 99-106.

Mitchell, F J G, Hester, A J & Kirby K J (1996)  Effects of season and intensity of sheep grazing on a British upland woodland: browsing damage to planted saplings.  Botanical Journal of Scotland 48, 199-207.

Kirby, K J, Thomas, R C, Key, R S, McLean, I F G, & Hodgetts, N  (1995).  Pasture woodland and its conservation in Britain.  Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 56 (suppl.) 135-153.

Kirby, K J & Buckley, G P (editors) (1994)  Ecological responses to the 1987 Great Storm in the woods of south-east England. English Nature (English Nature Science 23), Peterborough.  170pp.

Kirby, K J, Mitchell, F J & Hester, A J  (1994)  A role for large herbivores (deer and domestic stock) in nature conservation management in British semi-natural woods.  Arboricultural Journal 18, 381-399.

Kirby, K J & Drake, C M (editors)  (1993) Dead wood matters: the ecology and conservation of saproxylic invertebrates in Britain.  (English Nature Science 7), Peterborough, English Nature. 105pp.

Roberts, A J, Russell, C, Walker, G J & Kirby, K J (1992) Regional variation in the origin, extent and composition of Scottish woodland.  Botanical Journal of Scotland, 46, 167-189.

Spencer, J W & Kirby, K J  (1992)  An inventory of ancient woodland for England and Wales.  Biological Conservation, 62, 77-93.

Kirby K J, Saunders, G R & Whitbread, A M  (1991)  The National Vegetation Classification in nature conservation surveys. British Wildlife, 3, 70-80.

Mitchell, F J G & Kirby, K J  (1990)  The impact of large herbivores on the conservation of semi-natural woods in the British uplands.  Forestry, 63, 333-354.

Kirby, K J  (1990)  Changes in the ground flora of a broadleaved wood within a clear fell, group fells and a coppiced block.  Forestry 63, 241-249.

Kirby, K J  (1988)  Changes in the ground flora under plantations on ancient woodland sites.  Forestry 61, 317-338.

Kirby, K J  (1988)  A woodland survey handbook.  Nature Conservancy Council, Peterborough (Research and survey in nature conservation 11). 164pp.

Kirby, K J & Wright, F J (editors)  (1988)  Woodland conservation and research in the clay vale of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire.  Nature Conservancy Council, Peterborough (Research and survey in nature conservation 15). 132pp

Kirby, K J, Bines, T, Burn, A, Mackintosh, J, Pitkin, P & Smith, I  (1986) Seasonal and observer differences in vascular plant records from British woodlands.  Journal of Ecology 74, 123-131. 

Kirby, K J  (1980)  Experiments on the vegetative reproduction in bramble (Rubus vestitus).  Journal of Ecology 68 513-520.