Article by Paddy Woodworth – Irish Times

Evidence suggests management of landscape needs to be independently examined

Studies after the 1984 fire established two points: the Killarney woods are damp, temperate rainforests. Heathland fires will damage peripheral trees, but cannot reach into ecologically sound oakwoods, because their typical native vegetation does not conduct fire well, and oak trunks are fire resistant.

Ironically, oakwoods infested by live rhododendron, though in poor ecological condition, will also repel fire. Rhododendron’s thick evergreen foliage does not easily burn. So this invasive alien shrub, which prevents oak regeneration and ultimately destroys whole forests, can protect them in the present.

A local environmental group, the Killarney Nature Conservation Group (KNCG), has recently published a post-fire analysis, backed by photographic evidence, which highlights a significant difference in woodland condition today. It shows that extensive dead rhododendron thickets have accumulated around and within the woods. These thickets, according to the group, have become the fuel that can link heathland fires and the forest interiors.

The KNCG analysis attributes this fuel accumulation to the current rhododendron eradication strategy in Killarney. The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), which manages the park, has since 2005 been killing rhododendron by stem injection with herbicide. This is quite effective, but the NPWS’s own rhododendron manual warns repeatedly of the fire hazard posed by leaving dead rhododendron standing within oakwoods.

SOURCE: Irish Times