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'Losing the war of the rhododendrons': Healy-Rae says invasive weed in Killarney is getting worse

Last year Healy-Rae said the army should be sent to Killarney National Park. 12 months on, he says the situation is getting worse.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

THIS LAST YEAR, Kerry TD Michael Healy Rae raised concerns about the rhododendron problem in Killarney National Park. 

Killarney National Park is being neglected because not enough resources are put into the maintenance and care of it, the Kerry TD claimed at the time. 

He told the Dáil that the rhododendrons are “taking over completely”, despite efforts to cut them back. 

“The rhododendron situation has gotten so bad in Killarney National Park, minister, that nothing short of calling in the army would put it right,” he claimed

Rhododendron ponticum was introduced to Ireland as a form of hunting cover in the late 19th century. It thrives in the temperate, humid climate and poses a significant threat to Irish woodlands by starving native flora of light and food and preventing regrowth.

It has firmly taken root in the national park and efforts to manage it have been ongoing for more than 30 years.

In a bid to get a hold on the situation, volunteers from the Men’s Sheds from around Ireland descended on the park in 2018 to help tackle the rampant rhododendrons. It was the second year Men’s Sheds members from 23 sheds across Ireland had to travel to Kerry to help combat the pernicious plant. 

One year on…

One year on since Healy Rae raised the issue in the Dáil, is it any better? 

No, according to the Kerry TD. 

“In fact, it is getting worse by the week,” he told TheJournal.ie

“Despite the best efforts from the Men’s Shed’s volunteers last year, the situation with the weed is getting worse. It is widespread in the park, and it is doing untold damage. 

He said nothing is happening to deal with the problem, stating that while employees of the park are doing their best to get a handle on it, a lot more dedicated staff are needed in the park, “or else we will lose the war of the rhododendrons”.

Healy Rae said: 

We all know Killarney is the tourist capital of the world. There is no place better than Killarney, or its National Park. We should be proud of it. The government is not doing enough to maintain it. 

Millions being spent on national park 

But the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht takes a different view to that of Healy Rae, saying it has “invested heavily” and is committed to tackling the spread of invasive species in Killarney National Park, most particularly Rhododendron ponticum.

A statement to TheJournal.ie said that dealing with the plant is “difficult, costly, and labour intensive”, adding that the management of the dynamic and aggressive Rhododendron ponticum is “a long-standing on-going programme in the National Park”.

They said there a robust management programme by experienced National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

Since 2011, the department said it has invested over €700,000 to tackle rhododendron clearance in Killarney National Park.

In 2017, the Department spent over €2 million in Killarney National Park, which included monies spent on Killarney House.

This figure includes a spend of some €228,355.30 on the eradication of Rhododendron in Killarney National Park, it added, stating that it represents a large proportion of the department’s overall budget for National Parks and Reserve. 

In 2018, the department spent €223,972.84 on eradication within Killarney National Park.

Staff dedicated to the plant eradication 

An updated Strategic Rhododendron Management Plan has been finalised and the department said it has suitably qualified vendors to carry out works over a four-year period. 

The department said it employs a number of specialist staff for the park, and this includes one person who is specifically dedicated full-time to its Rhododendron problem. 

The statement added that “new invasive alien species legislation” is at an advanced draft stage in the department. This new law will update and strengthen current restrictions around invasive alien species and will also deal with outstanding issues concerning trade in invasive alien species, said the department spokesperson.

This new legislation will bring into force a number of important national measures on foot of the introduction of EU regulations, which deals with invasive alien species across the union, and will provide officials with clear functions and powers in tackling such invasive plants, particularly where these species may have an adverse effect on National Parks and protected sites.

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