Dry, broad-leaved woodland
Glengarriff woodland consists of a sizeable area of broad-leaved semi-natural woodland comprised of Oak (Quercus petraea) and Holly (Ilex aquifolium), with much Downy Birch (Betula pubescens) and Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia). A little Yew (Taxus baccata) occurs and Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo) is scattered through the woods. There is much small-scale variation in the ground flora, including heathy vegetation with Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Great Wood-rush (Luzula sylvatica) and Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus). Common woodland herbs include Enchanter’s-nightshade (Circaea lutetiana), Irish Spurge (Euphorbia hyberna), Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense) and Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). Ferns, include Hard Fern (Blechnum spicant), a characteristic species of old oak woodland, and Hay-scented Buckler Fern (Dryopteris aemula).
A particular feature of this hyper-oceanic woodland is the luxurious growth of mosses, lichens and Polyody Fern (Polypodium vulgare agg.) on the trunks and branches of tLichens encrusted a birch treerees.
Although this is the site of an ancient woodland, it was once part of an estate and some exotic species were also introduced, such as Beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum). The latter has invaded parts of the woodland posing a serious problem, however, it is being systematically removed.
The oak woodland corresponds with the EU Habitats Directive Annex I habitat, Old Oak Woodland.
Wet, broad-leaved, semi-natural woodland
Wet woodland occurs along parts of the Canrooska and Glengarriff rivers. This is dominated by Willows (mainly Salix cinerea subsp. oleifolia) and Downy Birch, with Alder (Alnus glutinosa) also frequent. A rich herb layer is found, characterised by such species as Bugle (Ajuga reptans), False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria), Remote Sedge (Carex remota), Tufted Hair-grass (Deschampsia caespitosa) and Wood Sanicle (Sanicula europaea). The rivers flood regularly, depositing silt within the woodlands.
From the 1950s to 1970s, prior to the Nature Reserve being established, conifers were planted as part of commercial forestry operations. Most have now been removed to allow native woodland to re-establish, but there are small pockets of conifers remaining. The main species present are Sitka Spruce (Picea sitchensis), Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris), Larch (Larix decidua) and Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla).
Rivers and streams
The principal river within the site is the Glengarriff River. The Coomarkane River and Canrooska River are tributaries. The river and streams are relatively fast flowing and stony bottomed. Glengarriff River is unpolluted (Q value 4-5).
The Nature Reserve features an area of open pasture known as the Big Meadow. The grassland grades from wet to dry. The wetter areas feature rushes (Juncus spp.) and the pink and blue hues of Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi) and Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis).
The drier areas of grassland support numerous ant-hills. The ant-hills provide a microhabitat which supports it’s own flora. Species present include Wild Thyme (Thymus praecox) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium).
Peatlands: wet heath and blanket bog
There are a few small blanket bogs in the Reserve, with peat reaching a depth of several metres in places. In the past some of the bogs were used for cutting turf to provide fuel for local villagers. However, the bogs are no longer cut and the blanket bog is regenerating. Species present include Ling Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Purple Moor-grass (Molinia caerulea), Bog Myrtle (Myrica gale), Bog Cotton (Eriophorum spp.), Cross-leaved Heath (Erica tetralix), Bell Heather (Erica cinerea), Tormentil (Potentilla erecta), sedges (Carex spp) and Sphagnum.
Like the old oak trees, many of the rocks are covered in a lush green growth of mosses and lichens. One plant on the rocks that looks like a moss, is in fact the tiny Filmy-fern (Hymenophyllum sp.). Typical plants of these rocks in the woods are St. Patricks Cabbage (Saxifraga spathularis), Kidney-leaved Saxifrage (Saxifraga hirsuta), Goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea) and Navelwort (Umbilicus rupestris).
One of the main management issues is controlling Rhododendron (Rhododendron ponticum). This exotic species was introduced by Lord Bantry in the 1800s and became highly invasive, infesting much of the woodlands. It casts a heavy shade which suppresses native plants and thus prevents woodland regeneration. Since the Nature Reserve was designated in 1991 efforts have been underway to remove the rhododendron and control any reinfestation. To date most of the 300ha Nature Reserve has been cleared of mature rhododendron, but maintenance continues with the removal of seedlings. Other exotic species, such as re-seeding conifers, are also being tackled.
Large areas have been cleared of conifers over the last 10 years. The clear-felled areas are being allowed to revert to broad-leaved woodland through a process of natural regeneration, supplemented in places by the planting of young oak grown from acorns of local provenance and grown on in modules in polytunnels located in Killarney National Park. Regeneration levels are good, due to low levels of grazing animals (in contrast to Killarney National Park where regeneration is poor due to the large numbers of deer, sheep and goats).
Dead wood is a very important woodland component and so any fallen trees are left to rot in situ. If the trees are dangerous (e.g. along roads) the trees are either crowned and some standing dead wood left or log piles created.The Downy Lake viewed through pine trees
Some habitat creation has taken place, with the construction of a new lake in September 2005. The Nature Reserve hosts a very rare dragonfly, the Downy Emerald, and the lake was dug to provide additional habitat for the species. In June 2006, an adult male was seen and in the summer of 2008 Downy Emeralds were recorded breeding at the new lake. Habitat creation has also taken place for lesser horseshoe bats, with a winter roost (hibernacula) being constructed close to an existing summer roost. A number of bat boxes were put up by the Vincent Wildlife Trust and these provide a home for other species of bat.
The unimproved grassland of the Big Meadow was traditionally grazed which helped maintain floral diversity. The lack of fertiliser or ploughing has also allowed the numerous ant-hills to survive. At present the grassland is grazed by a small herd of Kerry cattle, an indigenous breed, that is part of the Killarney National Park organic herd.