Multivariate land classification and land cover mapping by aerial photographic interpretation were used to model spatial variation of land cover in the Wicklow Mountains, Ireland and to structure a stratified random sampling programme of upland blanket bog vegetation. The total area of blanket bog with gully-erosion features was estimated as 33% of the area studied. Vegetation with hand peat-cutting patterns was estimated at 5%, and there was 35% undissected (intact) vegetation. There were differences between land classes in the estimated area of land cover with gully-erosion features or hand peat-cutting patterns.
Sample vegetation quadrats, stratified by land class and aerial photographic land cover type, were grouped by their plant species composition. The groups represented ombrotrophic mire, soligenous mire and shrub heath vegetation. There was significant association between vegetation group and land class, related to variation in regional landscape type, but no significant association between vegetation group and the aerial photographic land cover types, undissected (intact) and dissected (gullied and cut-over) peats. It is proposed that the similarity of vegetation between undissected and dissected blanket bog is related to vegetation regeneration. The need to consider differences in vegetation distribution, composition and dynamics in ecological management strategies is emphasised. The study demonstrated the value of stratified random field sampling for cost-efficient regional ecological assessment in upland blanket bog landscapes typified by the Wicklow mountains, Ireland.