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Killarney is a magical and magnificent wilderness, that is home to some of the rarest species on earth.

Nature & Conservation

Certain parts of Killarney National Park have gone largely undisturbed for several hundred years, allowing a variety of flora and native fauna to thrive. The National Park has been designated a biosphere reserve because of the presence of such rare flora.

Lakes at Killarney

ABOVE: Killarney Lakes at Killarney National Park

Some other noteworthy habitats and species are the indigenous red deer herd and the Reenadinna yew woodland.

The red deer in Killarney National Park are the last surviving indigenous herd of red deer in Ireland. The Killarney herd has been here since Neolithic times. All other red deer herds in the country are descended from re-introduced stock.

The Reenadinna Woods is the largest area of yew woodland in Western Europe and is designated as a Special Area of Conservation. Trees within it are estimated to be between 200 and 250 years old.

Protect Nature

Thank you for helping us protect nature at Killarney National Park. When you enjoy responsible outdoor recreation here, you help us preserve the unique creatures and habitats of the Killarney wilderness.

Useful Tips

Plan Ahead

Think about the best time to visit and how you’ll travel here, to minimise your environmental impact. Check the weather and make sure you have everything you need to bring.

Be Considerate

Be aware of how your activities and behaviour can impact nature, the experience of other visitors and those working here. Be mindful of any noise you make and how you interact with others along the way.

Respect Wildlife

Dogs are very welcome but must stay on the lead. If you can, avoid sensitive times for wildlife nesting and breeding.

Travel on Durable Ground

The marked trails let you take in all the best parts of the Killarney wilderness. Only experienced hikers should venture into the hills.

Leave What You Find

Do take photographs of the landscape and plants, but please leave even the smallest details untouched, so others can enjoy the Killarney wilderness just as you did.

Dispose of Waste Properly

Litter is a huge threat to nature. By bringing your waste home, you help protect the park and its wildlife, and keep Killarney healthy.

Minimise the effect of fire

We can’t allow fires of any kind in our national parks. Fires can cause lasting impacts and devastate plants and animals. Talk to our rangers or Education staff if you need advice.

Conservation Projects & Rare Breeds

Conservation: Irish Cuckoo Tracking Project

ABOVE: Cuach Carran being tagged.

Conservation: Irish Cuckoo Tracking Project

The Cuckoo or Cuach

The Cuckoo, along with the Swallow and the Corncrake, has a long Irish history as a harbinger of summer, arriving in the last days of April which have often been referred to as ‘the time of the cuckoo.’

Cuckoos are a summer migrant to Ireland with adult birds only being here from April to early July having spent the winter in Africa and are a unique bird in Ireland as they lay their eggs in other birds’ nests and have no involvement in raising their young.

The Cuckoo has seen a 27% contraction in breeding distribution between the first national census, Bird Atlas (1968-1972), and the most recent Bird Atlas (2007-2011). In the most recent Bird Atlas population trends across Britain and Ireland show large declines across England and Wales, increases in Scotland and relative stability in Ireland. Thus, Cuckoo shows a population shift northwards and westwards similar to a number of other migrants which winter in Africa’s humid regions. However, there is little known about the potential causes and drivers of these declines.

Tracking Cuckoos

In 2011, British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) embarked on a new project to study Cuckoo migration patterns. Whilst the Cuckoo had been well studied during the breeding season in the UK, once they head off on migration very little was known about the routes they take or where in Africa they spent the winter months. If the areas of importance for these birds could be identified, then they could study pressures there which could explain the losses of the Cuckoo population.

As of the end of 2022, over 100 adult Cuckoos have been tagged across Britain and a lot has been learned about the routes taken, and some of the pressures they face whilst on migration. But the big question for us is do Irish Cuckoos face the same issues or do they undertake a different migration strategy and different challenges?

So in May 2023, NPWS linked up with the BTO Cuckoo team to satellite track four Irish Cuckoos. Three from Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry and one from Burren National Park, Co. Clare. Three of these birds were sponsored directly by NPWS whilst the fourth was by a private sponsor. These birds were fitted with satellite tags and their movements can be followed on the links below:

Conservation: Indigenous Red Deer Herd

ABOVE: red deer stags

Conservation: Indigenous Red Deer Herd

The red deer herd found in the National Park dates back to Neolithic times and is now the only surviving indigenous herd left in the country. While herds of red deer can be found elsewhere in Ireland, they are from re-introduced stock (mainly from Scotland).

The red deer is Ireland’s largest land mammal and the stags can achieve a weight of 220kg. The female, or hind, can reach up to 110kg in weight. As the name suggests, they have a deep reddish brown coat that turns brown-grey in colour in winter as it thickens for protection against the weather. Red deer are primarily grazing animals but also included in their diet is heather, small shrubs and rough grasses. The stags shed and regrow their antlers every year, ensuring they are in tip top condition for the rut.

Rare Species: Native Kerry Cattle Herd

ABOVE: kerry cattle

Rare Species: Native Kerry Cattle Herd

A native herd of Kerry cattle can often be seen grazing in the Killarney National Park. Now considered a rare breed, they are easily identifiable because of their colour and size.

Kerry cattle are almost entirely black except for an odd small patch of white on their udders. Males can weigh up to 550kg and the female between 350 – 450kg and while they are smaller than other breeds, they are still robust and strong. They are believed to be one of the oldest breeds of cattle in Europe and were primarily used for milk production. There are very few Kerry cattle left but herds can be found in Ireland, the UK, Canada and America.

Conservation: Eagle Reintroduction Programme

ABOVE: white-tailed sea eagle

Conservation: Eagle Reintroduction Programme

White-tailed sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) – eagles hadn’t been seen in Ireland since the early 20th century until a reintroduction programme in the Killarney National Park, and now there are white-tailed sea eagles in the sky once more.

One of Ireland’s largest resident birds, the eagle has a wingspan of up to 2.4 metres and a body length of approximately one metre. The female is the larger of the two and can weigh around 6kg whereas her male counterpart weighs around 4kg. An adult eagle is brown in colour with a pale head and their distinctive white tail appears when they are around 3-4 years. Many sightings of the eagle within the National Park have been over Lough Leane.

More facts and and videos from the live webcam recordings on the White-tailed Sea Eagle are available from the Glengarriff Nature Reserve website.

Rare Species: Killarney Shad of Lough Leane

ABOVE: Killarney shad

Rare Species: Killarney Shad of Lough Leane

Killarney shad (Alosa killarnensis) – known locally as a ‘goureen’ the Killarney shad is not only unique to Ireland, it is unique to Kerry and specifically one particular lake within the Killarney National Park, Lough Leane.

Growing up to 20cm in length and with a herring-like appearance, the shad has a life expectancy of five years. They feed mainly on zooplankton found in the lake. The female is slightly larger than the male and chooses gravel areas near the islands on the lake to spawn during June and July. This is a particularly interesting species as it is believed to have arrived in the lake at the time of the last glacial period maximum 10,000 years ago, and as the ice sheets melted it had to adapt to become a landlocked species.

Rare Species: Caddisfly (Setodes argentipunctellus)

ABOVE: caddisfly

Rare Species: Caddisfly (Setodes argentipunctellus)

This particular caddisfly is a rare aquatic insect in Ireland found only in Killarney National Park. It is believed to be a survivor of the last ice age.

Despite the name, it is not a fly; whereas a fly has only one pair of wings, a caddisfly has two pairs. Found around lakes, rivers and streams, caddisfly larvae are aquatic. The lifespan of an adult caddisfly is only a few weeks. Caddisfly adults and larvae are an important food source for fish and birds.

Rare Species: Northern Emerald Dragonfly (Somatochlora arctica)

ABOVE: northern emerald dragonfly

Rare Species: Northern Emerald Dragonfly (Somatochlora arctica)

This is Ireland’s rarest dragonfly, now believed to be restricted to two small areas within Killarney National Park. The adult northern emerald dragonfly lives only a short time, typically between one to eight weeks.

During that time they can be found either near the ground where they hang on vegetation, or foraging high in the treetops. They can be seen between May and September but are more likely to be spotted in June and July. The female deposits her larvae in shallow bog pools and their tiny eggs can be found on branches and leaves of aquatic plants or in water or wet mud. The population of the northern emerald dragonfly in Ireland is believed to be less than 1,000 adults.


Certain parts of Killarney National Park have gone largely undisturbed for several hundred years. This has allowed a variety of species of flowers and plants to thrive. Some of the plants found in the National Park are unique in Ireland. The National Park has been designated a biosphere reserve because of the presence of such rare species.

Yew Tree

ABOVE: Yew tree



Wildflowers are flowers that grow freely in the wild and they are an important part of protecting biodiversity. In Ireland we have over 800 flowering plants. Wildflowers are under threat from agricultural practices, invasive species and the rezoning of land for building purposes. Approximately 120 species of wildflowers are under threat in Ireland.

Species found in the National Park include: asteraceae, bluebell, common honeysuckle, bitter vetch, lesser celandine, ragwort, slender rush, thistle, mouse-ear chickweed, knapweed, hawkweed, wood sorrel, enchanter’s nightshade, bog asphodel, common butterwort and round-leaved sundew. The Kerry lily is a rare and protected species found in the National Park.


Although Ireland has a low number of animal species compared to the rest of Europe, many of our species and habitats are of international importance. Killarney National Park is home to several species that are unique not only to Ireland but to the National Park itself.

There is an incredible diversity in the species of birds found in the National Park; some are resident, whilst others are migratory and spend only part of the year here. There is in excess of 450 bird species in Ireland and of those over 140 have been recorded in the National Park.

There are 26 species of terrestrial mammal native to Ireland and 20 of these can be found in Killarney National Park. Terrestrial mammals are animals that live on land, are warm blooded and give birth to live young (rather than laying eggs). They breath air and at some point in their lives will have hair.

Invertebrates are the most diverse and numerous group of animals on Earth. An invertebrate is a cold-blooded animal with no backbone. They can live on land, like insects, spiders, and worms or in water, like mussels and aquatic snails.

Amphibians and reptiles have a backbone but unlike other vertebrates, such as mammals and birds, the majority of the species are cold-blooded. In Ireland there are only two native species of amphibians and one native species of reptile. All three can be found in the National Park.

Fish are aquatic vertebrate animals that have gills but lack limbs and can be found in virtually all aquatic habitat. There are 14 different species of fish in the waters of Killarney National Park, one of which is particularly rare and found nowhere else in the world.


The National Park has a wide diversity of habitats including woodlands, lakes, rivers and ponds, waterfalls, bogs and heath, grassland and rock.

Yew Woodland

Woodland dominated by yew covers some 25 ha of Carboniferous limestone reef and pavement in Reenadinna Wood on the Muckross Peninsula. In addition to yew, hazel, oak, ash, holly, alder and willow are locally common where soil-filled hollows are present. Reenadinna Wood is the only significant stand of yew woodland in Ireland and indeed Western Europe. The limestone outcrops are largely enveloped by a thick blanket of bryophytes which is notable for the presence of the southern Atlantic liverwort Marchesinia mackaii.

Wet Broadleaved Woodland

This category includes woodlands that are flooded in winter, but dry out in summer as well as woodlands that are permanently waterlogged. The former occurs on low-lying Carboniferous limestone areas at lake edges, most notably along the north-eastern side of Lough Leane (e.g. at Reen and on Ross Island). Most of this area is flooded during the winter with little or no standing water present during the summer. However, the surface soil remains wet or very damp.

Blanket Bog

Bog occurring on deep, flat areas of peat in lowland areas is characterised by bog moss hummocks separated by pools, and has some features in common with the vegetation of midland raised bogs. Looscaunagh, Newfoundland and Oak Island Bogs can be described in this category. Blanket bogs at higher altitudes typically support species such as ling heather, crowberry, bilberry, cotton-grass and heath rush, along with a variety of bog mosses and distinctive lichens.

Dry Broadleaved Woodland

The oak woodlands on Old Red Sandstone in Killarney constitute the most extensive remaining area of native woodland in Ireland. These woodlands range from relatively extensive lakeside tracts, such as Tomies Wood to more fragmented high valley woodlands such as Upper Doogary and Glaisín na Marbh. In well-developed woodland, the canopy is almost exclusively sessile oak, usually between 13 and 20 m high, with an open under-storey of holly. Birch and rowan are also frequent, but rarely form pure stands.


Wet heaths are botanically similar to blanket bogs. They can occur on varied types of terrain, but are best represented on moderately steep, badly drained moraine slopes, where the peat is rarely much more than one metre deep. Typical species include ling heather, cross-leaved heath, gorse and bog myrtle, with purple moor-grass, deer-grass, cotton-grass, tormentil, heath rush and some bog moss species. The best developed dry heath in the National Park occurs on the mountain slopes immediately west of Lough Leane, such as Shehy, Tomies and Purple Mountains.

Mixed Woodland

Some woods in or near the demesnes of the two estates display many features of natural woodlands, but also have numerous exotic species in them. These woods include the Game Wood, remnants of Bellview Wood, parts of Ross Island and Reen, as well as the Monks Wood and other parts of Muckross. Some exotic trees and shrubs including beech, hornbeam, sycamore, rhododendron, cherry-laurel and Portugese laurel regenerate freely, in some cases from seed and in others vegetatively.


Grassland types within the National Park range from unimproved species-rich grasslands to intensively managed swards around areas heavily used by visitors. Damp meadows with purple moor-grass, found to the east of Lough Leane, support scarce species such as whorled caraway and ivy-leaved bellflower. Other species include sharp-flowered rush, jointed rush, carnation sedge, devils-bit scabious, creeping bent, tormentil, marsh violet and many-headed woodrush.

Rivers, Streams and Waterfalls

Numerous small rivers and streams flow into Lough Leane, Muckross Lake and the Upper Lake. The nature of the underlying geology and the climate means that these are subject to flash-flooding. Although generally acidic and low in nutrients, in places these flowing waters support important stands of floating and submerged vegetation and unusual invertebrates.

Lakes, Ponds and Wetlands

Many of the upland lakes are small corrie types, occurring at cliff bases and impounded by glacial moraines. Examples of classic corrie lakes include the Devil’s Punch Bowl on Mangerton and Lough Crincaum on the north of Cromaglan Mountain. The National Park also contains a number of lowland oligotrophic lakes. These are generally larger than the upland ones, with a wider range of plant species present. Good examples include the Upper Lake and Muckross Lake.

Conifer Plantation

There are three main areas within the Bourn Vincent Memorial Park where the former Department of Lands established commercial conifer plantations between 1933 and 1953. 538 ha on the slopes of Torc Mountain/Muckross was allocated for forestry in 1933, 371 ha of Derrycunihy/Looscaunagh in 1958 and 328 ha in Tomies, also in 1958. The principal tree species planted were sitka spruce and lodgepole pine. Other species include Norway spruce, Monterey pine, Scots pine, European larch, silver fir, Douglas fir, hemlock and cedar.


Killarney National Park includes parts of the MacGillycuddy Reeks and incorporates many mountains within its boundaries. The lakes and rock formations give scenic views of various dimensions.

Gap of Dunloe
Above: The Gap of Dunloe (Bearna an Choimín) with MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and Purple Mountain covered in cloud, taken from Molls Gap, near Killarney, Co. Kerry, Ireland
Discover more about the geology and landscape of Killarney National Park in the Killarney Valley Geology Trail guide below.

Trail Guide