Efforts to enhance Tralee's biodiversity have received a major boost following the discovery of a rare Bee Orchid (ophrys apifera) along the Tralee N69 by-pass.
Tralee botanist Gosia Horajska discovered the orchid, which is being hailed as a significant find for wildlife enthusiasts who have campaigned against mowing and spraying grass wastelands in order to boost wildflowers and pollination.
"It's great that Kerry County Council have agreed to put measures in place to improve biodiversity and we're already starting to see results," said botanist and ecologist, Jessica Hamilton.
The Bee Orchid was first recorded in Ireland in 1793 and its design is strikingly similar to that of a female bee hovering over a flower, which is how it attracts male bees for pollination. This is only the second ever recording of the species in Tralee as they are more commonly associated with coastal areas and sandy soils.
Jessica helps run the local Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland Kerry Branch, whose members take part in regular field trips to identify and record various plant species.
In terms of orchid distribution in Kerry, Jessica explains how they are quite rare and more commonly associated with the coast. So to find one in Tralee is hugely significant.
"Orchid species are not necessarily a common species and they can easily be 'out competed' by other plants if their conditions aren't correct.
"In Kerry, orchids, on the whole, are not common and are relatively rare. Nationally, they are even classified as near threatened in terms of their conservation stages," she added.
Jessica believes COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and a reduction in upkeep along roadways is helping rare species to flourish again, while at the Tralee MD meeting in May, Sinn Fein Councillor Cathal Foley tabled a motion calling on Kerry County Council not to mow wild areas along the route to aid biodiversity.
"It just goes to show what can pop up in places when the management is more tailored towards biodiversity as opposed to keeping swards of grass cut nice and sharp for more visual purposes," Jessica said.
"Once you put measures in place, biodiversity will come. You don't need any fancy reseeding of areas for planting. These rare species are out there and it's amazing what you can find when you know what you're looking for," she added.
The rare orchid discovery also comes as a boost for Tralee Tidy Town members. Their work along wastelands and hinterlands of Tralee in recent years has helped keep areas tidy and conditions suitable for growth.
Martha Farrell of Tidy Tralee welcomed KCC's contribution.
"This measure was taken to enhance biodiversity in the town," Martha said.
"The benefits of this are already evident with an abundance of wildflowers now visible on roadsides. The recent find of the rare Bee Orchid underlines the importance of initiatives such as this and we commend Kerry County Council for taking action to protect biodiversity," she added.