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cartoon map showing rhododendron plants with markers, text says  'rhododendron must be mapped'

Calling all citizen scientists in Kerry, Rhododendron must be mapped…

On a Spring day out in Killarney National Park or the Gap of Dunloe, you won’t have to look too hard to spot some Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) with its striking display of pink flowers. In truth, you won’t have to look too hard anywhere in Kerry to find this plant growing. This ornamental plant, once prized for its beautiful flowers and usefulness as a hedge for creating shelter, was planted around Muckross in the 19th Century. Since then it has spread to, or been planted in, many other locations and is a common sight in many areas.

It is a species that originated from the Mediterranean and has done exceedingly well in our Irish climate, particularly here in Kerry. Rhododendron is an excellent example of a non-native invasive species, which free from the factors that limit it in its native lands, has thrived at the expense of our own native habitats and species. The old oak woodlands for which Killarney is renowned are under serious threat from the invasion of this species, as are many of the peatland habitats such as the heath and bogs. Rhododendron can form dense thickets, blocking light, shading out native vegetation and preventing regeneration.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has been tackling the Rhododendron in Killarney National Park for many years. In parts of the MacGillycuddy Reeks, such as the Gap of Dunloe and the Black Valley, Rhododendron is also becoming well established. Local farmers regularly comment on the rate of spread over the last 10-15 years. Until recently, no action had been taken to address the spread of rhododendron in the MacGillycuddy Reeks, an area of both high scenic value and high nature conservation value.

Over the last 2 years, The MacGillycuddy Reeks European Innovation Partnership (EIP) Project, a locally-led agri-environmental project, led by South Kerry Development Partnership, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as part of Ireland’s Rural Development Programme 2014-2020 which aims to improve the sustainability and economic viability of the farming in the MacGillycuddy Reeks, has been working with local landowners in the area to manage Rhododendron ponticum and prevent the loss of protected heath and bog habitats and grazing lands to this species. Given the nature of invasive species and the speed at which they spread, early intervention leads to more efficient and successful treatment. For many landowners in the MacGillycuddy Reeks, the prospect of dealing with well-established populations on their own is an incredibly daunting task. Indeed, some have tried and failed over the years.

With the support of the MacGillycuddy Reeks EIP Project Team, a collective working group has been established to assist farmers and landowners in treating rhododendron on their land. The MacGillycuddy Reeks EIP Project has facilitated mandatory training (Hand Held Pesticide Application, QQI Level 5) on the correct use of pesticides and on best practice methods for treating Rhododendron for all farmers and members of the collective group carrying out this work.

Concerns have been raised about the spread of this invasive species throughout the Kerry UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and beyond where going unchecked it will have a significant impact on our native biodiversity. This year with funding from the National Biodiversity Action Plan (NPWS) and support from Kerry County Council and the Kerry Biosphere team in collaboration with the MacGillycuddy Reeks EIP Project has launched a campaign to raise awareness of this issue and begin the process of mapping the areas where this plant has spread to.

We are asking citizens to play a part in mapping rhododendron ponticum throughout the county of Kerry using the National Biodiversity Data Centres recording app so that the process of managing this invasive species can begin. Later in the year demonstration events for the treatment of rhododendron will be held for interested landowners, farmers and community groups.

You can download the biodiversity data capture app to record your sightings or add your sightings via the recordings page on the website www.biodiversityireland.ie.

Control of rhododendron is not a one-time treatment but must be carried out in several phases over a number of years. The Kerry UNESCO Biosphere Reserve will be working over the next number of years to support landowners, farmers and communities in managing this problem.

For more information follow the Kerry UNESCO Biosphere Reserve on Facebook @kerrybiosphere or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., you can also watch our demonstration video for treating rhododendron on our Youtube channel.


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