‘Rhododendron – an ecological disaster’

 

Sir, – The Department of Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, and its National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), welcomes and encourages coverage of biodiversity; this is a critical issue, and essential not only in its own right, but also for the wellbeing of people, communities and the planet.

The Irish Times article “Rhododendron: An ecological disaster in Killarney National Park” (Weekend, May 18th) presented readers with an unbalanced, misleading and inaccurate account of the management of Rhododendron ponticum in Killarney. Furthermore, it personalised the matter in naming unfairly and criticising professional colleagues who have given their entire careers to our national parks and the local community in Killarney.

The spread of rhododendron over the last century presents an enormous environmental challenge. It is not the case that there is a new “ecological disaster” nor that the western woodlands are “dying”. Accusations that NPWS has “repeatedly failed” are simply not borne out by the facts on the ground.

The management of rhododendron in Killarney National Park is a biodiversity management and operational issue. This requires allocating resources with consideration of the most pressing needs, health and safety, and the availability of staff, contractors and volunteers.

The article concentrates on different approaches in methodology; ignoring largely the significant work and progress made in tackling this most resilient of invasive species. The control of rhododendron is difficult, costly and labour intensive. We have committed hundreds of thousands of hours and spent millions of euro to contain and eradicate it. It requires repeated visits to all cleared areas and is inevitably a long-term project.

The article disparages the extensive expertise of NPWS colleagues. The department employs hugely committed, experienced, and competent staff – including a specialist to assist the ongoing rhododendron eradication programme.

The article claims repeatedly that there is no one with a scientific background directing the rhododendron programme and yet management qualifications include a BSc in forestry, a BSc in land management and a PhD.

The work methods have greatly reduced the use of herbicide, as is appropriate to the rarity and fragility of many of Killarney’s flora. The work programme has included, and will continue to include, treatment of rhododendron in the western woods in the park. This department has also already commenced the process of a peer review of the management programme and methodologies.

Finally, the NPWS engaged generously and extensively with the journalist on this article, so it is disappointing that he took one side in a divisive discussion where all sides share the same objective – the long-term restoration of the best native woodlands in Ireland. – Yours, etc,

Dr CIARAN O’KEEFFE,

Head of Science

and Biodiversity,

TREVER DONNELLY,

Director,

Dr PHILIP BUCKLEY,

Divisional Manager,

Southern Region,

National Parks

and Wildlife Service,

Department of Culture,

Heritage and the Gaeltacht,

Kildare Street,

Dublin 2.