The Irish Times view on Ireland’s forests: a question of management

Forestry management appears in many cases to be all of a piece with the State’s dismal record in protecting and restoring our biodiversity

In Killarney National Park, rhododendron threatens the oak woods. Photograph: Getty Images

Ireland’s few remaining natural forests are being “ecologically trashed”, Eoghan Daltun, author of the bestselling An Irish Atlantic Rainforest, told a recent DCU conference.

He added that it was “inexcusable” that this degradation extends into the heart of Killarney National Park. Some of our highest quality oak woods there cannot regenerate due to invasive rhododendron and overgrazing, despite being cleared and partially restored in the 1990s.

Qualified observers have made this point repeatedly. Daniel Kelly, emeritus professor in botany at TCD, told this newspaper in 2019 that “the great rhododendron disaster has taken place while Killarney is in the hands of the Irish nation.”

An independent 30-year review of vegetation change in the park by a TCD team, including Kelly, was published by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) last year. While reporting “impressive” improvements, it nevertheless warned of the “alarming situation” in the western woodlands, and urged “direct interventions” to stem the spread of rhododendron.


As Daltun has single-handedly demonstrated on his own land in a similar Kerry environment, the restoration of degraded Atlantic oak forest remains possible, within a relatively short time. Yet the NPWS has repeatedly allowed relatively healthy woodlands to become degraded in an iconic national landscape.

Sadly, this appears to be all of a piece with the State’s dismal record in protecting and restoring our biodiversity. Ireland is before the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), charged with “failing to establish necessary conservation measures” in areas the NPWS specifically designated for protection. The Government contests these charges, but many appear well-founded.

Nearly two years ago, the inadequacies in the management and approach of the NPWS were outlined in a report by Jane Stout and Micheál Ó Cinnéide, commissioned by the minister responsible, Malcolm Noonan. When it was published last year, the minister failed to implement a key recommendation, to appoint a new full-time director “ideally with an ecological/environmental background”. The service has received increased funding and staff under Noonan’s charge, but questions remain about whether important structures have been sufficiently reformed.

Until this situation is appropriately addressed, the risk is that our forests, like many other essential national resources, will remain poorly managed. Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan irritated farmers by talking to the Irish Examiner about the possible compulsory purchase of land to expand national parks such as the one in Killarney. Perhaps the minister and his party colleagues would be better employed ensuring the management of existing public lands is radically improved before seeking to add to them.