Healy-Rae repeats call for Army to tackle rhododendron

‘Some people think this is funny, to get lost in the rhododendron. But it isn’t funny at all’

Speaking in the Dáil, Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae has highlighted the issue of rhododendrons in Killarney National Park.

 

Anne Lucey

Independent Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae has repeated his call for the Army to tackle the rhododendron infestation which now covers a third of Killarney National Park.

Mr Healy-Rae was speaking after two people were rescued on Thursday from the western side of the park near Lough Leane, one of the worst affected areas where the invasive species encloses several kilometres in a jungle-like canopy.

A rescue helicopter used thermal imaging to locate the two men after they managed to call for assistance.

Mr Healy-Rae said the invasive species was out of control in the park and threatened its Unesco biosphere reserve designation.

The density of the plants mean almost all other plant life in the area has been killed and this adds to the sense of disorientation for people walking in a rhododendron forest.

“Some people think this is funny, to get lost in the rhododendron. But it isn’t funny at all. It is frightening and it serves to highlight what is a serious situation,” he said.

Mr Healy-Rae said not nearly enough money was being spent on the problem and said it needed to be tackled properly as attempts to control over 30 years had failed.

The TD said people laughed at him in February when he called in the Dáil for the Army be deployed to cut the rhododendron forest.

“I am calling once again for the Army to be brought in,” he said.

The ponticum species is native to the Black Sea and was introduced to Ireland in the 19th century, probably as game cover.

The acid rich soil which covers most of the park, along with high rainfall, suits the plant perfectly and it has spread rapidly.

Around one third of the 25,000 acre park is covered. All areas of the park, apart from the limestone woodlands of Ross island, near the town are infested to some degree, including the yew woods in Muckross.

It has also spread beyond the national park and is found along the Black Valley in the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and in bogland areas further west.

Conservationists such as Padraic Fogarty of the Irish Wildlife Trust say the war against the invasive species is being lost - partly because of a change in approach following a dispute between the Groundwork organisation which had led work camps for decades, and park staff on how to cut it.

A variety of methods are used to contain it - including herbicides, and local meitheals where groups of people head out into the backwoods on Saturdays to hack and hew.

The Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht spent €200,000 in 2016 in a bid to contain it and advertises for an annual rhododendron cutting/herbicide contract.

“In addition to this contract work, the Department also has an all year round student volunteer programme for site maintenance and also runs VSI work camps over the summer months in this regard as well,” it said.

A spokesman for Kerry Mountain Rescue said the two men rescued on Thursday were uninjured. They had set out on Wednesday and had had camped overnight in the rhododendron forest and were found about 400m from Glena Cottage.

“Weather was dreadful the past few nights and the rhododendron is very dense in the area.”

Last year a walker had to be rescued from a rhododendron forest on Shehy mountain.