Background to ESC-DSS

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.


Forestry Commission Technical Paper 20
Established the methodology with reference to Grampian, Scotland.

Forestry Commission Bulletin 124 (June 2001)
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.