Belfast Telegraph

Duo rescued from Irish mountain wild rhododendrons

By Emma Jane Hade

Two hillwalkers had to be rescued after they became trapped in a thick forest of a wild rhododendron plants for five hours on an Irish mountainside.

The Co Waterford couple became trapped in the dense foliage in the Knockmealdown Mountains over the weekend.

Members of the a mountain rescue team battled to free the couple in their 50s from the "impenetrable jungle" after they received a distress call shortly before 5.30pm on Sunday.

The couple, who were described as being extremely experienced and well-equipped hillwalkers, had tried to hike around the Tipperary-Waterford border before they got into trouble and rang 999.

"They had walked to the summit of the Knockshanahullion. But instead of taking the normal route down, they attempted to take the Bay Lough route. This brought them into steep ground and essentially an impenetrable forest," South Eastern Mountain Rescue (SEMR) team leader Ray Bradfield explained.

"They basically got in a position that they could neither go up nor down. They then contacted Mountain Rescue for assistance."

His colleague Jimmy Barry added: "It was horrendous. I have been a member of mountain rescue for 15 years and it was probably one of the most dangerous exercises or rescues I've been on.

"We sent the first party of five in – I was in that party – and within 50 metres, we couldn't move. It was like a jungle and it was horrendous, because everything dies underneath rhododendron," Mr Barry told the BBC.

"And it was messy, we had to crawl through it, carry our gear and then try and locate the people as well."

On the SEMR Facebook page, the organisation described the tricky operation.

"Mountain Rescue spotters, who were able to make visual contact with the two experienced hillwalkers, guided rescuers in by radio to the location in very dense rhododendron forest.

"To avoid a risky and arduous trek back up the slopes of Knockshanahullion, Cahir River Rescue responded to help complete the last leg of the journey, transporting the two along with Mountain Rescue personnel across Bay Lough to safety."

The news prompted expert Zoe Devlin to call for measures to be taken to control the wild plants.

Ms Devlin, author of Wildflowers Ireland, said rhododendron was is an invasive species and can be very dangerous as "it can grow up to six metres tall if is let".

She said: "It crowds out everything on the ground, and there is nothing on the ground that can grow – none of the wild flowers can grow any more because it just takes over all the light and nutrition.

"It just completely gets rid of all of the wild flowers. It roots down and creeps across so it is impenetrable really."

She believes that in order to tackle the rhododendron, it would require significant financial investment and a lot of manpower.

"There are quite a lot of different alien species that should be culled, but it is a question of finances and a question of organising. It takes a hell of a lot of effort to get rid of some of these trees."

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