My Department, through its National Parks and Wildlife Service, has been working with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) to fund and manage the Invasive Species Ireland Project since 2006. This initiative provides advice and guidance on the management of a range of invasive species, which can negatively impact on the environment and on property on the island of Ireland. Information and general guidance is provided in respect of species such as Rhododendron. This project is expected to be renewed in partnership with NIEA this year. In 2008, my Department produced, as part of the series of Irish Wildlife Manuals, a comprehensive guide to the management of Rhododendron on nature conservation sites. This publication is available on www.npws.ie. Information on the distribution of Rhododendron is also available on the invasive species section of the National Biodiversity Data Centre website at http://maps.biodiversityireland.ie/
My Department carries out an annual targeted programme in Ireland’s National Parks to manage Rhododendron, which, in some areas, has replaced native shrub and grows in dense thickets, excluding native vegetation and limiting natural tree regeneration.
The extent of the problem varies from property to property and, having regard to the very dynamic nature of this invasive species, my Department's targeted management programme is routinely monitored and adjusted with a view to ensuring optimum efficacy. The work involved is carried out by outside specialist companies, staff of my Department and, in some cases, by volunteer groups under staff direction and supervision.
My Department will continue to invest in this important programme of work with a view to creating conditions in our National Parks that are conducive to the protection and re-establishment of native species and, particularly, our native woodlands. To this end, my Department is reviewing current practice to ensure the most effective use of the available resources.
The European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 includes provisions in relation to controlling the possession and dispersal of ecologically harmful and invasive species of animals and plants, including Rhododendron. Regulation 50 of the Regulations, which include provisions relating to the banning for sale of invasive species listed in the Schedule to the Regulations, is not yet in effect. This is due to the necessity for risk assessments to be carried out on invasive species which are subject to trade before this element of the Regulations can be brought into force. Such risk assessments are presently ongoing and, indeed, draft assessments for many of the species, including Rhododendron, are now available to view on the project site: http://nonnativespecies.ie It should also be noted that three public consultation meetings have been scheduled for the week beginning 19 May and further details in this regard are available on the website. I expect to be in a position to bring the relevant provisions of the Regulations into force during the summer.