Work on Ecological Site Classification (ESC) began in 1992 following a study visit to British Columbia where a similar system, Biogeoclimatic Ecosystem Classificiation (BEC) is in use. Ecological classifications for natural forests are used around the world, however here in Britain a system has been developed for classifying both semi-natural woodlands and plantation woodlands.
The project was expanded in 1996, following a Forest Research decision to consider decision support system tools in forest ecology:
- A focus was the developing policy for sustainable forestry in Britain
- The vision was a user-friendly computer based Ecological Site Classification Decision Support System (ESC-DSS) that could lead the user through the complex methodology of ecological site classification.
The result is a system that allows users to assess the ecological suitability of alternative forest types.
The first version of ESC was available on a CD.
Version 2 was developed into an online system, and included UK wide default soil data, elevation, and plant and soil keys.
Version 3 now incorporates future climate scenario data from UKCIP02, to allow users to incorporate future suitability into planting decisions.
Version 4 is the current version
Forestry Commission Technical Paper 20 - An Ecological Site Classification for Forestry in Great Britain, with special reference to Grampian, Scotland, established the methodology with reference to Grampian, Scotland.
Forestry Commission Bulletin 124 (June 2001) - An ecological site classification for forestry in Great Britain, describes the ESC methodology in detail:
- The climate data have been recalculated for the whole of Britain, based on the Meteorological Office 30 year recording period (1961–1990)
- The windiness scores (DAMS) have been calculated for the whole of Britain and the list of plant indicator species has been revised.