Kerry reserve keeps its Unesco status

Kerry has kept its status as a UN-recognised biosphere reserve despite objections from the Irish Wildlife Trust and farmers.

Heather Humphreys, the heritage and rural affairs minister, yesterday welcomed the decision of Unesco to allow Killarney National Park to retain the status that it was awarded in 1982. Its area and name had to be changed as part of the process so that it is now officially called the Kerry Unesco biosphere reserve.

Its status was under threat after the Irish Wildlife Trust (IWT) had complained to Unesco last December that the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS), as managers of Killarney National Park, had never submitted a periodic review as required every two years.

The Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) had also expressed concern about the lack of consultation with its members in the area, amid fears that it could affect their livelihood.

The status of biosphere reserve is awarded to areas comprising terrestrial, marine or coastal ecosystems that “promote solutions reconciling the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use”.

There are 669 biosphere reserves in 120 countries but only two in Ireland, the other being North Bull Island in Dublin, which was extended and renamed Dublin Bay in 2015. Ms Humphreys said that the designation of an area as a biosphere reserve was an internationally recognised “badge” for excellence in sustainable development.

The minister expressed delight that Unesco had recognised the conservation efforts made by the NPWS and Kerry county council. The council introduced greater water harvesting in hotels, and more pedestrianisation, cycling lanes and solar panels as part of its efforts to keep the Unesco status.

The IWT dismissed such actions as a “branding exercise”. Padraic Fogarty, IWT campaigns officer, said that his organisation had opposed the retention of the status because it had serious concerns regarding the management of the park for many years.

Among the issues which it believed the NPWS had failed to address were overgrazing, lack of forest regeneration, mismanagement of the native red deer and out-of-control rhododendron and other invasive species.

“It’s a bad day for Unesco with the standards that are being set with this decision,” Mr Fogarty said.

The Kerry branch of the IFA said that Patrick O’Driscoll, its chairman, had met Kerry county council about the issue and had received an assurance that the accreditation would not result in any new planning restrictions or limitations on any existing farming practices in the area.