Donal Hickey: Flora and fauna hurt Killarney

People with even a casual familiarity with one of our best national parks will be aware of two chronic problems — the growth of the deer population and rhododendron infestation, writes Donal Hickey.

Donal Hickey: Flora and fauna hurt Killarney

People with even a casual familiarity with one of our best national parks will be aware of two chronic problems — the growth of the deer population and rhododendron infestation, writes Donal Hickey.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that deer are dying of starvation in Killarney National Park and that centuries-old, native oak woods are threatened by the spread of the invasive rhodo. Since 2011, funds to the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) have been cut by almost 70% and the service has only half the number of rangers it needs.

In this column recently, we mentioned grass in sections of the park in Killarney had been eaten bare by hungry deer. The consequences were inevitable and we now have sika deer dying from hunger on the monastic island of Inisfallen.

These are beautiful animals and the Killarney Red deer is often described as the last native herd in the wild in Ireland. However, because of the expansion in the population, roaming on farmland and other private property and deer being road-traffic hazards, many people are beginning to regard deer as a nuisance. That’s the sad reality.

There are persistent calls for culls and park authorities have culled more than 120 deer, this year. Noel Grimes, chairman of the Kerry Deer Society, has called for an immediate deer-management plan and a programme that would include depopulation, or moving deer to other locations in the country, as has happened formerly, in the next three to five years.

Since the 1960s the park authorities have been engaged in an ongoing battle to control the rhodo which is harmful to wildlife and which prevents the growth of other plants because of the dense thicket it forms.

The size of the 10,000-hectare park presents serious challenges, with volunteers and international students involved in what has become a community campaign against this chronic threat. The Killarney Mountain Meitheal, which has appealed for more volunteers, is doing sterling work in clearing paths, rhodo and other overgrowth and is financially supported by the Muckross House trustees.

Meitheal leader Johnny McGuire tells us 5,660 hours have been put in by members in the last year. In November, men’s shed volunteers from around the country got stuck in, covering around 30 hectares in the park in three days. Given the level of infestation, however, it’s a question of containing the spread of the rhodo more than its eradication.

The Irish Wildlife Trust has called on Unesco to remove the coveted biosphere reserve status from Killarney Park. According to the NPWS, 2,300 hectares is under active management, preventing rhodo from returning following previous clearances and using environmentally-friendly method.

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