A volunteer story

My experience in Killarney National Park

Hi! I’m Lucía María De la Fuente García and I’ve been a long-term student during 3 months at the Killarney National Park. At this moment I’m studying a degree called Environmental Sciences in Toledo, Spain, so as you could imagine, I’ve chosen this place because I thought it would be great not only for improving my English, but also for my degree practices. After this time here in Killarney, I can say I was right.

People Walking along trackway at Killarney Trekking at Killarney In the beginning, I was a bit scared since it was my first time staying in a foreign country for a while. All the questions came to my mind: how am I going to live? Would this job be suitable for me? What if am I alone? It was very difficult to fit in a correct answer in every question I had, so in the end I just let it be. The day was coming and I was even more nervous. Suddenly I was working surrounded by a lot of new people that I didn’t know. Initially I was a little bit lost in all this new world, but thanks to my partners and the staff who helped me, things were becoming easier. I met my new colleagues, who would be working almost the same time as me and also I met my first group of volunteers.

Killarney National Park is just perfect for you if you are looking for enhancing your knowledge about plants and animals at the same time as discovering new places where you have never been before.In summer the park receives every 2 weeks a group of volunteers, who spend 14 days working with us. This is a great opportunity due to the fact that you can meet a lot of people from different parts of the world, even you can make a lot of friends whose friendship could remain forever! When I arrived here, I could barely have imagined how many friends I was going to have, however now I look back and I can’t believe that all of this has happened only in 3 months! I’ve made a lot of friends with who I traveled, I played, I laughed, I worked… Definitely, I shared my life with them. Moreover, this experience has helped me to be more outgoing and to have a wider vision of the world.

OK, this sounds great but maybe now you are asking ‘what are you working at? ‘ I’m going to explain it below…

In this work you can do several activities such as birdwatching (in order to know how many bird species are in the park) or treating Rhododendron. Wait… Rhodo… what? Rhododendron ponticum is an invasive specie here in Ireland which comes from the Black Sea (although there are some of them in Spain). How did they finish in Ireland? Around XIV century, British people used to bring it just as an ornamental plant since its flowers are so colorful and beautiful. Unfortunately the acid soils and the oceanic climate were well suited to Rhododendron so  this plant started spreading out over the park, invading zones where other plants used to live. This is a problem considering that they can reach high heights and can cover a huge area with their branches, which it involves removing the light from other plants until a 98%. The species which are near Rhododendron just die because of that and the biodiversity is being reduced more and more. Rhododendron flower produces 7000 seeds which disperse through water and air, making this process even more complicated. That’s why we treat it.

Rhododendron Flower Person with camera at Killarney Rhododendron Treatment Equipment

Killarney was declared National Park in 1932 and it has an extention of more than 10000 hectares. Therefore, as you can see now, it will take a lot of time to have it all restored. This is why every help is welcomed, and thanks to the volunteers and the long-term students, it’s becoming true. This issue is also important to raise awareness of what a small action could imply huge consequences, not only here in Ireland but also all over the world.What do you have to do? The first step is looking for a plant. When you have it localized, you go to the base, ensuring you that there are no more leaves or small plants underneath your hand. After that, you make 2 cuts in the steem if the plant, one in front of each other with the help of a hatchet. Consecutively, you spray that zone with a mixture of glyphosate and water (5:95) and then you let them died. When several plants are died, the next step is coming: remove the branches to make new paths. This part is more funny since you can throw it away making piles of it. This allows that regeneration takes place,maintaining deers way from that area during a long time (deers could eat the green shoots and the forest could never be regenerated! ).

Waterfall at Killarney National Park

I am too glad for having this opportunity that I am going to remember all my life. I totally recommend it, even if you are not studying the same degree as me.In my opinion, the rest of the countries has to take note of Ireland and their concern about nature and how they protect it. One of the things impressed me here is how local people act every day against the pollution, the invasive plants and plastic. You go walking through the park and you could see signs about ‘protecting the bees’, ‘take care of nature’, ‘this specie lives here’ or ‘do not cut this specie’ and most of the people respect it! Itit surprised me too much, otherwise, thinking it better, everything should have been like that, even I believe we must have a subject at school called Environmental Education, just to point out the importance role of the nature in our lives and how essential is to take care of it. We all know that we are all in a critical situation nowadays so our work is to educate people in order to solve it as much as possible. For this reason, this kind of volunteering is crucial to carry it out.

Deer at Killarney

I cannot finish this article without mentioning all the people who have helped me in this job: thanks to my family for the support they have given to me, to my friends (even the new ones), Tim, Peter, Mary, William and all the Killarney National Park equip, without forgetting to all the Killarney House staff, thanks for giving me this chance to tell everyone my experience in Killarney. You all are doing a great job which has to be recognized.

I hope to come back soon!

Boat going towards Bridge at Killarney












Written by Lucía María De la Fuente García  the 3rd of September 2019