Nature & Wildlife

A rich variety of species and habitats is essential for the wellbeing of people and the planet. Ireland has a low number of species compared to the rest of Europe however many of our species and habitats are of international importance. In Killarney National Park we are working to conserve and increase our biodiversity.

“It is that range of biodiversity that we must care for – the whole thing – rather than just one or two stars”

Sir David Attenborough



Kerry Slug

Kerry Slug (Geomalacus maculosus) (Photo Credit: Robert Thompson) 

The Kerry slug (Geomalacus maculosus) is notable for its distribution, being found only in Kerry and West Cork in Ireland as well as in northern Spain and Portugal. The slug is widespread in the Old Red Sandstone areas of the National Park and populations there are contiguous with those outside the National Park boundaries. It is more active at night when it grazes on a wide variety  lichens and liverworts in oak woodlands. During the day, particularly when the weather is dry, the slug retreats to cracks and crevices in trees, particularly under the bark. The slug can also be found in open heath habitats, where it grazes on lichen covered sandstone boulders.

Freshwater Pearl Mussles

Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera)

Freshwater pearl mussel (Margaritifera margaritifera) is a bivalve listed under Annex II and V of the EU Habitats Directive and has been recorded in the Owenreagh River where it forms the boundary of the National Park as it flows into the Upper Lake. Survey work has indicated that mussels as young as eight years may be present and that there are up to 3,000 individuals occurring. The freshwater pearl mussel is one of the longest-lived invertebrates known and can live for more than 100 years. 90% of all freshwater pearl mussels died out across Europe during the twentieth century. It was formerly widespread and abundant in Ireland, however, it is now on the verge of extinction. The Downy emerald (Cordulia aenea) dragonfly is common in Britain and other parts of

Downy Emerald Dragonfly

Downy Emerald (Cordulia aenea) Dragonfly

Europe but can only be found in two locations in Ireland, specifically in Killarney and Glengarriff national parks. It is only encountered near water bodies that are in close proximity to ancient oak woodlands. The Northern emerald (Somatochlora arctica) dragonfly is Ireland’s rarest dragonfly with estimates putting the population at fewer than 1,000 adults, restricted to two small areas in Killarney National Park. The main threats for the species are continued degradation of the

Marsh Fritillary Butterfly

Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) (Photo Credit: Mark Pike)

wet-heath habitat it needs, and the potential impact of the invasive Common Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum) on its only recorded breeding site. There are known to be a number of small to medium sized, highly mobile populations of Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) scattered throughout the National Park. The associated habitat is damp acidic grassland rich in devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis), the caterpillars’ food plant. Purple hairstreak butterfly (Neozephyrus quercus), a species restricted to the oak woodland canopy has been recorded in the National Park.

The aquatic snail, Limnaea peregra var. involuta has only been recorded from two locations in Ireland, one of these is in the National Park, in Lough Crincaum, in the townland of Gortroe. The Hairy wood ant (Formica lugubris) is present in small numbers of nests in the National Park is known only in four other localities in Ireland.


In total, fourteen fish species have been identified from lakes within the National Park. Of these, two are of particular interest. The Killarney shad (Alosa killarnensis) is a small land-locked sub-species of the twaite shad. This sub-species is unique to Lough Leane. Other populations exclusive to freshwater occur in some Italian lakes. The Arctic

Salmo salar Atlantic salmon

Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar)

char (Salvelinus alpinus) is a fish of the sub-Arctic and is presumably a relict species. More widely spread in glacial or post-glacial times, its range contracted as the climate became milder to a small number of Irish water bodies, including Lough Leane. All three Irish species of lamprey – sea, brook and river have been recorded in the lakes or in the Long Range River. From economic and recreational viewpoints, the most important species are salmon and trout. Both species spawn in the rivers of the catchment and have been recorded in the lakes.


Amphibians and Reptiles

Common Newt

Common Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)

The Common newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) and Viviparous lizard (Lacerta vivipara) are Ireland’s only native reptile are also found within the National Park. The Common frog (Rana temporaria) is widespread, breeding even in tiny bodies of water.



Wild Birds

The diversity of habitats in Killarney National Park is reflected in the wide range of bird species occurring. More than 140 species have been recorded in the National Park. This includes resident species as well as migrants, which spend only part of the year in the south-west of the country. Others have been recorded on passage during the spring and autumn migrations and a few are vagrants, possibly blown off-course during winter storms.

Greenland White-fronted Geese feeding on grassland

Particularly notable species that occur include Greenland white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) pictured to the left, Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), Redstart, Garden Warbler (Sylvia borin), Wood Warbler (Phylloscopus sibilatrix), Ring Ouzel (Turdus torquatus), Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) and Merlin (Falco columbarius). 50% of the world’s population of 30,000 Greenland white-fronted geese over-winter in Ireland, feeding on wetlands and farmland from mid October to early April. The Killarney flock is the only Irish bog feeding flock to winter almost entirely within a protected area, feeding on the underground bulbils of the white–beaked sedge in areas of lowland blanket bog other species found on lowland bogs include common snipe and the smaller jack snipe which occurs in small numbers in winter.


Kingfishers occur regularly on the Deenagh, Cloghereen and Gearhameen Rivers. The breeding population in the National Park is estimated at 2-5 pairs. Heron (Ardea cinerea) and Dipper (Cinclus cinclus) pictured to the right, are also regularly seen on flowing waters and also breed in the National Park. 34 species of wildfowl have been recorded on the Lakes of Killarney, 21 on a regular basis. Nine are breeding species, including little grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis), great-crested grebe (Podiceps cristatus), red breasted merganser (Mergus serrator), tufted duck (Aythya fuligula) and mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). Five are present around the year but not breeding in the National Park, and seven are regular winter visitors, including Bewick’s Swan (Cygnus columbianus) and whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus), goldeneye (Bucephala), teal duck (Anas crecca), wigeon (Mareca) and the common pochard (Aythya ferina).

In addition to these, eight species of wader (two recorded as breeding) and two species of Rail (one breeding) have been recorded on the lake margins. Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) was recorded as a vagrant in Ross Bay during the 1980s, but has not been recorded since then.

Hatching aquatic insects also provide food for the swallows, martins and swifts which feed over the lakes. In addition, certain species of warblers commonly nest in lakeside vegetation. Thus, over 50 bird species frequent lakes and rivers and their margins.



Reasonable breeding populations of most Irish woodland species, both resident and migrant occur in the National Park. Breeding densities vary between the various woodland types, with robins (Erithacus rubecula) being one of the most abundant species in the oak woodland and goldcrest (Regulus regulus) in the yew woodland.

Rare breeding species include wood warbler, garden warbler and blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla), all of which appear to be increasing in range. The Common redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus), a rare breeder in Ireland, has nested in the past within the oak woodlands of the National Park, but has not been recorded for at least ten years. The woodlands also provide important food reserves for winter immigrants such as redwing (Turdus iliacus), fieldfare (Turdus pilaris) and immigrant populations of blackbird (Turdus merula), mistle thrush (Turdus viscivorus) and chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs). The upland areas of blanket bog support a small wintering flock of golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria), while Red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scoticus) occur in very small numbers (less then 10 birds) in areas of heath in summer.

Ring ouzels are rare summer visitors to upland areas, and only one pair was proved breeding in the 1980s, with a number of single birds also recorded. The commonest bird of the uplands is Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis), which together with the skylark (Alauda arvensis) moves to lowland farmland in the winter. Stonechat (Saxicola torquata) and Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) are common summer visitors while raven breed throughout the area.

At least one pair of Peregrine falcons nest in the National Park most years. Merlin, one of Ireland’s rarest birds of prey also breeds in the National Park with a possible three to five nesting sites in either in old crows’ nests or in heather.


Red Stag Knockreer

Red Stag at Knockreer (Photo Credit: Paudie O Leary)

Red Deer The last surviving indigenous herd of red deer in Ireland occurs in the Killarney Valley. While all other Red deer (Cervus elaphus) herds in the country are descended from re-introduced stock (mainly of Scottish origin), the Killarney herd has been here since neolithic times. The population is estimated to number between 800 and 1000 animals.

Sika Stags

Sika Stags (Cervus nippon) (Photo Credit: Paudie O Leary)

Japanese sika deer (Cervus nippon), a species threatened elsewhere were introduced to Killarney Valley in 1865. Today there are approximately 900-1100 sika deer in the National Park. This population is of international genetic conservation interest as it has remained genetically un-introgressed with other (red and other sika) types which has occurred both in this country and elsewhere, including Japan.




Lesser Horseshoe Bat

Lesser Horseshoe Bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros)

There are eight known Lesser horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus hipposideros) roosts in the National Park including a summer roost at Tomies Wood, a hibernation site at Muckross Peninsula and a nursery site on the Muckross-Torc Road. Other roosts have been recorded at Killarney House, Derrycunihy Church and Knockreer. This bat species is listed in Annex II of the Habitats Directive and all of these roosts are of international importance. Seven other species of bat have been recorded in the National Park.

Other species worthy of note include the Pine marten, a rare and secretive predator that has become more widespread in the National Park in recent times, particularly since the release of additional animals into the National Park. Otter (Lutra lutra) is widespread in aquatic habitats of Killarney National Park and Mink are also present. Most of the rest of Ireland’s indigenous terrestrial mammals, including Irish hare (Lepus timidus hibernicus), red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), badger (Meles meles), stoat (Mustela erminea hibernica) and fox (Vulpes vulpes) have been recorded in the National Park. Indeed some marine species have also been recorded, with seals having been seen in Lough Leane.

Bank vole

Bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus)

Bank voles (Clethrionomys glareolus) which were first recorded in Ireland in 1964 and present in Killarney since 1969 may have been introduced to the country accidentally. Now common in the National Park woodlands, they feed on fruit, seeds and other plant material, and so may have a slight impact on woodland regeneration as well as competing with other small mammals.






The Killarney area is now well known for the diversity of its bryophytes (mosses and liverworts), most of which occur within the National Park. It has been described as a “district unmatched in Europe for its richness in bryophytes” and the woods and glens around the lakes and Torc attract enthusiasts from many countries. Some species are confined in Ireland to Killarney and are found outside Ireland and Britain only at distant locations in the Iberian Peninsula, Macaronesia and in some cases in North and South America, Africa and other parts of the tropics.


The lichen flora of the National Park is of similar importance to the bryophytes. The diversity of lichens can be attributed to the presence of a wide range of habitats, particularly mature woodlands, the humid temperate climate, and the absence of air pollution. Notable lichens found here, such as species of Lobaria, Parmeliella, Sticta and Pannaria, have become locally extinct in various parts of Europe as a result of air pollution.

Lobaria pulmonaria

Lobaria pulmonaria

Higher Plants

A number of plant species found within the National Park have discontinuous geographic distributions and are of localised occurrence within Ireland. The reasons for these wide gaps in the ranges of these species have not been fully explained and it is now suggested that some may have been introduced to this country.

St Patricks Cabbage

St Patrick’s Cabbage (Saxifraga spathularis)

Two saxifrages, St. Patrick’s cabbage (Saxifraga spathularis) and kidney saxifrage (Saxifraga hirsuta), both frequent in the National Park, are found in western Ireland and northern Spain and Portugal, but not in Britain or France. Greater butterwort (Pinguicula grandiflora), also frequent in the National Park, occurs in the Pyrenees, Jura and western Alps.


Arbutus, which can be frequent in woodland margins in Killarney, is in other parts other parts of Ireland and occurs elsewhere only in Western France and in its main range in the Mediterranean region. Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bermudiana), found in the west and centre of Ireland and occasionally in Kerry, is otherwise known only from North America.

Arbutus in flower

Arbutus in flower

Some plants occurring on the uplands of the National Park have their main distributions in northern and mountainous regions of Europe. Of these, mountain sorrel (Oxyria digyna) is an example of a true Arctic-Alpine species, while others such as green spleenwort (Asplenium viride), Alpine clubmoss (Diphasiastrum alpinum) and Irish saxifrage (Saxifraga rosacea) are somewhat more widely distributed.

Killarney Fern

Killarney Fern (Trichomanes speciosum)

Other plants in the National Park are noteworthy for their rarity in Ireland. A number of these are listed under the Flora Protection Order (1999), including Killarney fern (Trichomanes speciosum), pillwort fern (Pilularia globulifera), betony (Betonica officinalis), slender cudweed (Filago minima) and slender naiad (Najas flexilis). Opposite-leaved pondweed (Groenlandia densa) seen in Killarney in the last century, is also on the protected list.

The Killarney fern was formerly quite widespread around Killarney, but was severely depleted in the 19th century by commercial collection and sale of living specimens associated with the Victorian craze for ferns. As a result only a few populations now survive in the Killarney district. Other noteworthy rare species include alder buckthorn (Frangula alnus) and whitebeam (Sorbus spp.) which occur on limestone outcrops around the lake shores, bird’s-nest orchid in the woodlands and shepherds cress recorded in the past on sandy shores of Lough Leane.

Further information on habitats, wildlife and designations within Killarney National Park, together with selected species lists may be found in the Killarney National Park  Management Plan 2005 – 2009 which can be downloaded here.