The Kerry UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is located in the heart of Kerry, encompassing the MacGillycuddys Reeks (Ireland’s highest mountain range) to the west, the Lakes of Killarney and the Paps Mountains on the eastern side of the county.

The area is home to the last native Red Deer herd, some of the most extensive stands of oak woodlands left in Ireland and a myriad of plants and animals that thrive in our temperate climate.

The Kerry Biosphere Reserve was first designated in 1982 as the Killarney National Park Biosphere Reserve. After a review in 2017, the area of the Biosphere Reserve was extended to include areas outside the National park and the name changed to the Kerry Biosphere Reserve that we know today. Check out the map below to see the area within the Kerry UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Map of Kerry Biosphere

Conservation within the Kerry Biosphere Reserve

Although the UNESCO Biosphere designation brings no new rule or regulations there are several protected areas within the Kerry Biosphere Reserve that are part of the European Natura 2000 network of protected sites.

Among these are:

  • The Killarney National Park, MacGillycuddy Reeks and Caragh River catchment Special Area of Conservation
  • Killarney National Park Special Protected Area
  • Eirk Bog Special Protected Area

These sites are designated to protect certain habitats and species for more information about these designated protected areas check out the NPWS website on protected areas here:

For more information on Killarney National Park check out their dedicated website here:

Animals and Habitats of the Kerry Biosphere Reserve

As mentioned above much of the area within the Kerry Biosphere Reserve is designated under the Natura 200 network. This means there are certain habitats and species present in these areas that are under the protection of the EU Birds and Habitats Directives.

In the core zone of the Biosphere, in Killarney National Park you can find three different types of protected woodlands

  • Oak woodlands
  • Yew woodlands
  • Wet woodlands

Killarney National Park Woodlands

Killarney National park is also home to the Killarney fern and many other rare and endangered plants and animals.

The national park in Killarney is also famous for its herd of Red Deer. Once on the brink of extinction, they are now thriving throughout the area.

Red Deer in the Killarney National Park

Follow this link to the Killarney National Parks dedicated website for more information about the flora and fauna of Killarney National Park.  https://www.killarneynationalpark.ie

The upland areas of the Kerry Biosphere Reserve are home to extensive areas of upland heath, these habitats include both wet and dry heath. These areas have been used as grazing land over the centuries. Historically mixed grazing of cattle, sheep and goats was in place with traditional herd management practices being used (more info can be found about this in Eugene Costello's book: Transhumance). The modern farming practice has seen a move towards predominantly sheep farming in this area although the work of the locally-led agri-environmental project, MacGillycuddy Reeks European Innovation partnership Project, has begun to reintroduce cattle in some areas to test their impact on the management of the upland heath habitats.

Cattle on the Upland Heath

Heathland habitats provide extensive benefits (called ecosystem services) in both carbon sequestration and flood relief as they absorb carbon through their natural processes and are also able to hold large amounts of water.

The bottom layer of a healthy heath habitat is made up of Sphagnum mosses, these can absorb huge amounts of water after rain and slowly release it to flow into our streams and rivers. This slowing of water flow over the upland areas by the heathland is known to alleviate flooding in our low lying areas. An unhealthy upland heath cannot hold as much water and so increases soil erosion and flooding.

Wet and Dry heath is also home to some amazing plants such as the carnivorous sundew pictured below.

The Carnivorous Sundew

For more information about life in the MacGillycuddy Reeks check out the MacGillycuddy Reeks Mountain Access Forum and the MacGillycuddy Reeks European Innovation Partnership Project here: www.macgilllycuddyreekskerry.com

Managing the Kerry Biosphere Reserve

The Kerry Biosphere Reserve is managed in partnership between the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Kerry County Council and South Kerry Development Partnership, who have supported the role of Biosphere Officer to assist in coordinating actions to achieve the objectives of the Biosphere Reserve. The actions of the biosphere team are informed by both a stakeholder Advisory Comhairle (council) and a scientific management Council. The stakeholder Comhairle is made up of active community organisations within the Kerry Biosphere Reserve area.

For more information on how you can help protect these important habitats and species check out our Get Involved section.

Special thanks to Peter O’ Toole for the woodland and deer photos used on this page.

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