At the end of 2016 the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) called for Killarney National Park’s designation as a UNESCO biosphere reserve to be withdrawn. This call was backed up by the leader of the Green Party, Eamon Ryan. Both IWT and the Green Party cite mismanagement of the park, overgrazing by deer and the threat that invasive species including Rhododendron poses to the national park as being key concerns.
Killarney National Park is without a doubt the jewel in the crown of tourism in Kerry, perhaps even tourism in Ireland and is known worldwide for its unique and precious habitats and species. Extensive, mature oak woodlands, yew forests, large stands of holly and the lakes play host to our red deer, wild trout and salmon, biologically significant populations of arbutus, and the Killarney fern and Killarney shad.
Rhododendron ponticum on the other hand is a nasty, insidious plant, boasting pretty flowers and shiny leaves much beloved by the Victorians. Since it’s arrival in Killarney, it has spread throughout the park. It’s thick growth creates a dense canopy of leaves that can stop other plants from growing and stops these plants and associated animals from thriving, upsetting the natural ecosystem.
Hard work by the staff and volunteers at Killarney National Park can only do so much. The spread of Rhododendron is a significant problem that requires significant resources to tackle it. A trip through the park will show the extent of the problem. Our woodlands are being taken over and unless a serious effort is made to tackle the problem, our national park is under threat. With tourism accounting for a significant portion of the economy of Kerry and particularly Killarney, it behoves us to take better care of this unique resource, that has been at the heart of our town and tourism industry for years. Perhaps this call by the IWT will serve as a wake up call for the powers that be and funding can be found to tackle this problem.
In the meantime, maybe some of our politicians might sit up and take note. It would be some vote getter and a great legacy to boot, to be the man or woman who sorted out these problems and helped save Killarney National Park.