A state agency confirmed it has spent €700,000 over the past five years in trying to eradicate rhododendron in the Killarney National Park.
A woodlands conservation agency Just Forests called for the Irish Army to be drafted in to tackle the problem as the Department of Arts Heritage, Regional Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs revealed €210,000 was expended in 2016, alone.
Rhododendron has become an invasive species in Ireland and has spread across much of the 10,000-hectare park, Ireland’s first national park and, since 1982, a Unesco biosphere reserve. Last month, the Irish Wildlife Trust lodged a complaint with Unesco over the failure by the National Parks and Wildlife Service to submit periodic reviews.
The trust claimed the authorities managing the Killarney amenity had failed to maintain standards of conservation and protection, and they should be forced to reapply for the coveted Unesco status which the park uses to promote itself.
The Just Forests group, meanwhile, said the rhododendron problem is deep-rooted in the oak woodlands.
Details about the department and wildlife services’ spend in the rhododendron eradication programme was provided by minister of state Michael Ring to Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae.
The Kerry representative said the national park was being “neglected”, while the deer population had “exploded”. Mr Ring said control of rhododendron was difficult, costly, and labour intensive and was the subject of a long-standing and continuing programme in Killarney.
He said year-round student volunteer programmes, summer camps and contract workers were engaged in helping to clear substantial areas. Mr Ring said a new updated strategic management plan for the national park was being prepared after the appointment in 2015, for two years, of a specialist in eradication measures.
Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has also spoken about the issue and said there is “real concern” among conservationists over the state of the park and, particularly, the decline of the woodlands due to overgrazing by deer and other animals, as well as the invasive rhododendron.
Mr Ryan warned that the park was at risk of losing its Unesco designation.
“There is real concern that we are losing what’s really precious,” said Mr Ryan, who had worked in a cycling tourism business in Killarney for over a decade. He said rhododendron ponticum was the first priority and was now taking hold of the woodlands, killing the undergrowth and threatening the natural forest.
Meanwhile, Mr Ring said a deer census had been undertaken and being assessed.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved