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Killarney National Park

Killarney National Park

Killarney National Park is a protected area that includes an area of approximately 10,000 hectares of mountain and lake territory in County Kerry, in south-western Ireland. It is the first national park established in Ireland.
The history of this park begins with an area of 4,000 hectares, which make up the core of the park, which was originally known as the Muckross estate; these were donated by US Senator Bourn Vincent and his parents to the town, who initially established a “farm open to the public”.
Starting from the seventies, the then Kenmare estate acquired the adjacent territories, including the three lakes, Knockreer House and Demesne, until the park reached its current size. With the extension of the park, the approach that was given changed in favor of environmental protection.
It is one of Ireland’s oldest national parks, established in 1932.

Geography –
Killarney National Park is located at the beginning of the Iveragh Peninsula, and the narrow road that crosses it from north to south-west is part of the Ring of Kerry, a tourist route normally traveled by car. From this road, approximately in correspondence with the central lake, a short and steep path starts which heads towards the Torc waterfalls, with an 18 m drop.
Inside the park there are many landscapes, including mountains, lakes, forests and moors.
Among its most distinctive features are Killarney’s three lakes: Lough Leane, Muckross Lake and Upper Lake. These lakes are framed by majestic mountains, including the Mangerton Mountains, the Torc Mountains and the Purple Mountains. The famous rock formations of MacGillycuddy’s Reeks are also part of the park.
The park is renowned for its biodiversity, with a variety of flora and fauna. Among the animals present there are red deer, badgers, weasels, otters and numerous species of birds, including the sea eagle.
Among the main attractions of Killarney National Park are Muckross House and its gardens, as well as Muckross Abbey. The park also offers numerous outdoor activity options, including hiking, walking, cycling and boating on the lakes.

Climate –
Killarney National Park has a climate characterized by Atlantic currents which mitigate the climate of this area.
The temperature rarely drops below freezing, precipitation is very frequent and the summer is mild, which favors the growth and development of flora and fauna.
This park is located in County Kerry, in the south-western part of Ireland, where, even if the climate is milder, due to the influences of the ocean, rainfall is known for frequent and unpredictable events.
During summer (June-August), average daytime temperatures generally range between 15°C and 20°C, but can rise higher during the hottest days. Summer nights are cool, with temperatures usually falling between 10°C and 15°C. This is the most popular season to visit Killarney National Park, as it offers longer days and pleasant temperatures.
In spring (March-May) and autumn (September-November), temperatures are cooler, with the average daytime varying between 10°C and 15°C. Nights can be colder, with temperatures around 5°C-10°C. These seasons offer spectacular landscapes thanks to the changes in the colors of the leaves and the flowering of the local flora.
Winter (December-February) is the coldest season, with daytime temperatures usually hovering around 5°C-10°C and nighttime temperatures that can drop below zero. Although winter can be cold, you can find unique beauty in the snow-covered landscape of Killarney National Park.
In general, it is advisable to be prepared for any type of weather when visiting Killarney National Park, including waterproof clothing and layers to adapt to sudden changes in weather conditions.

Flora –
Thanks to the favorable climate, Killarney National Park boasts a diverse amount of plant species and green ferns can be found at any time of the year. You can also meet different species of animals, including deer, squirrels, weasels and various types of birds. In the upper part of the park, sheep farming is widespread.
In fact, within the site there are a large number of animal and plant species of interest, including most of the native Irish mammal species, several important fish species including the Arctic char and a series of rare plant species or scarce. Many of the plant and animal species in the park have a Hiberno-Lusitanian distribution, meaning they are only found in southwestern Ireland, northern Spain and Portugal. The main reason for this is the effect of the Gulf Stream on the climate of southwestern Ireland. The park has been designated a biosphere reserve due to the presence of such rare species.
Significant quantities of plant species found in the park have unusual geographic distributions and are located in Ireland. These plant species are grouped into four main categories: Arctic-Alpine plants, Atlantic species, North American species and very rare species. Atlantic species are species that are otherwise found mainly in southern and southwestern Europe, such as strawberry tree, St. Patrick’s cabbage and butterwort. North American species include blue-eyed grass and pipewort.
For this reason Killarney National Park is renowned for its rich diversity of flora, which is influenced by the various environmental conditions present within it. Among the significant plant species we list the following.
– Beech (Fagus sylvatica): The forests of Killarney National Park are home to numerous beech oaks, which contribute to scenic beauty and provide habitat for a variety of wildlife.
– Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum): This ornamental plant has become invasive in many areas of the park, creating dense thickets that can stifle the growth of other native plant species.
– Common heather (Calluna vulgaris): This plant is a common feature of the moors present within the park. Its pink or purple flowers add splendor to the landscape, especially during the summer months.
– Royal fern (Osmunda regalis): This impressive fern is one of the largest species in the park and can be found along the edges of waterways and in wetlands.
– Water lotus (Nymphaea spp.): The lakes of Killarney National Park are dotted with water lilies, which flower in summer and add a touch of color to the water.
– Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.): Some varieties of rhododendrons, especially in spring, offer spectacular blooms in park gardens, adding a palette of bright colors.
These are, of course, just some of the many plant species that can be found in Killarney National Park. The variety of habitats found in the park, ranging from forests to lakes to moorland, is home to a wide range of flora, contributing to its biological diversity.

Fauna –
Killarney National Park is home to most of Ireland’s native mammals and long-established introduced species. The bank vole was first identified in 1964 in north-west Kerry. Its range has now expanded and now includes park. The marten is another notable species in the park.
The park is home to Ireland’s only remaining wild herd of native deer (Cervus elaphus), numbering around 900 individuals. Up from less than 100 individuals in 1970. They are found in the upland areas of the park, mainly on the Mangerton and Torc mountains. This herd has been present continuously in Ireland for 4,000 years, since the red deer returned to the island, perhaps aided by man, after the last ice age, around 10,500 years ago. They were formerly protected by the Kenmare and Muckross estates. The herd is not completely pure because deer were introduced into the herd to improve antler quality in the 19th century.
Pregnant females from lowland areas often travel to the mountains to give birth in early June. National Park staff tag the calves. Although red deer and sika deer are capable of interbreeding, no cases of interbreeding have been recorded in the park. Maintaining the genetic purity of the native red deer herd is given the highest priority. Red deer are fully protected by law and their hunting is not permitted.
Sika deer (Cervus nippon) were introduced to the park from Japan in 1865. Since then their population has increased considerably. It is estimated that there are up to 1,000 Sika deer in Killarney National Park. Inside the park they are found both in the open areas of the plateau and in the woods.
The Park also boasts a notable wealth of avifauna and is of ornithological importance as it is home to a vast range of birds. 141 bird species have been recorded in the park, including mountain, woodland and wintering waterfowl species. There are several species that would otherwise be rare in Ireland, notably the black redstart (1–2 pairs), the nightingale (1–2 pairs) and the garden nightingale (perhaps up to 10 pairs). The black grouse and the collared blackbird are included in the IUCN Red List of species of high conservation interest (1-2 pairs each). The white-fronted goose, merlin and Greenland peregrine are listed in Annex I of the EU Birds Directive. Other notable species found in the park include the red-billed chough, nightjar and osprey. Ospreys sometimes pass through the park as they migrate between northern Africa and Scandinavia. Historical accounts and place names suggest that ospreys once bred in the area. Golden eagles once nested in the park, but were extirpated around 1900 due to disturbance, nest raiding and persecution.
The most common bird species in mountain areas are the pipiton, the common raven and the stonechat. Rare species are merlins (up to five pairs) and peregrine falcons (at least one pair).
Finches and robins are the most common species in the woods. Other species that breed there include the blackcap and the nightingale. The rare redstart and nightingale are thought to have a few nesting pairs in the park’s woods.
Gray herons, little grebes, mallards, water rails, dippers and common kingfishers live in the park’s water bodies.
Lough Leane, and the other lakes to a lesser extent, are home to wintering birds traveling south from higher latitudes. These species include redwing, fieldfare, golden plover and waterfowl such as teal, goldeneye, wigeon, pochard and whooper swan. The park’s native bird populations are augmented by migrant species in both winter and summer. A small flock of Greenland white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons flavirostris) from the global population of approximately 12,000 migrate to winter in the marshes in the Killarney Valley within the park. The number of this bird present in the park is currently low, less than twenty individuals. This population is important because it is the southernmost in Ireland and one of the few remaining populations that feed entirely on bog and whose habitat lies almost entirely within a protected area.
Other wintering water birds include the coot, the cormorant, the goldeneye, the mallard, the pochard, the teal and the tufted duck. Other species that live on the lakes are the black-headed gull, the little grebe and the mute swan.
Species that migrate from Africa in summer include cuckoos, swallows and swifts. Some species are vagrants that appear sporadically, for example when there is stormy weather or an unusually cold spell on the European continent.
The park is also home to a white-tailed eagle reintroduction project, which began in 2007 with the release of fifteen birds. The project will last several years and many more eagles will be released. The species became extinct in Ireland in the 19th century after persecution by landowners. Fifteen chicks will then be brought in each year for five years. Despite a poisoning incident in 2009, the program continues and birds introduced to the area have now been traced to Wicklow and Donegal.
The Killarney lakes contain many brown trout and an annual run of salmon. Rare species found in the lakes are Arctic char and Killarney shad. The lakes have natural stocks of brown trout and salmon which can be fished, subject only to the usual Irish salmon licensing regulations.
The lakes are populated by Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus L.), which is usually found much further north in subarctic lakes. This is a relict species left in the area after the last ice age and therefore indicative of pristine environmental conditions. Although they were once widespread, they are now confined to isolated populations in inland freshwater lakes that have suitable habitat. They have been isolated in their respective lakes since the last ice age. They are extremely sensitive to environmental changes when found as far south as Ireland, where they are at the southern limit of their species’ range. The biggest threats to their survival in Ireland are introduced fish species, eutrophication, acidification and climate change. The rate of extinction of entire populations in Ireland has increased in recent decades.
The Killarney shad (or goureen) (Alosa fallax killarnensis) is a landlocked pile-dwelling subspecies of the twaite shad, a predominantly marine species. It is unique to the Killarney Lakes. It is rarely seen because it feeds mainly on plankton and is therefore rarely caught by fishermen. It is listed in the Irish “Red Data Book” of threatened species. It is listed in Annex II of the EU Habitats Directive.
Several unusual species of invertebrates can also be found in the Killarney Valley. Some of these species, including the northern emerald dragonfly (Somatochrona arctica) and several species of caddisflies and stoneflies, are usually found much further north than Europe. They are thought to be relict species left behind in Killarney after the last retreat of the ice. The northern or heath emerald dragonfly, Ireland’s rarest dragonfly, is confined to the park. It breeds in shallow pools in swamps.
The oak woodlands in the remote valley of Glaism na Marbh are a stronghold of Formica lugubris Zett., a species of woodland ant rare both in Killarney woodland and throughout Ireland.
The Kerry snail (Geomalacus maculosus) is a Hiberno-Lusitanian species. It emerges in Killarney’s frequent rains to graze on lichens on rocks and tree trunks. It is believed to be the only snail capable of rolling into a ball. It is found in both Annex II and Annex IV of the EU Habitats Directive.

Guido Bissanti

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