Although primarily a species of the UK, Ireland, Brittany and the Atlantic Islands (Canaries, Madeira and the Azores), the Killarney fern is also found in Europe at scattered locations in other parts of France, Spain, Portugal and Italy.
In the UK, the asexual form (sporophyte) has been recorded from at least 14 localities in Northern Ireland, England, south-west Scotland and Wales. These populations contain only 16 separate colonies, varying greatly in size from a few to over a thousand fronds and cover areas from 0.25 m² to 4 m² of damp, deeply-shaded caves and stream ravines. In contrast, the sexual form (gametophyte) is much more widespread in the UK, but appears to exist in a state of arrested development, unable to produce the mature form under present conditions.
The Killarney fern is listed on Annexes II and IV of the Habitats Directive and Appendix I of the Bern Convention. It is listed as Vulnerable on the GB and Irish Red Lists and Rare on the IUCN global RDL. In the UK it is protected under Schedule 4 of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, etc.) Regulations 1994 and Schedule 8 of the WCA 1981.
Current factors causing loss or decline
Botanical collection, including trampling and vegetation removal associated with photography.
Human activities which alter ambient humidity, for example tree-felling, stream water abstraction and changes in catchment run-off from drainage and afforestation.
Pollution and physical damage caused by sewage, fertilisers, mine and quarry spoil and human activities such as gill-scrambling.
Natural processes, for example stream-scouring from cloudburst, wind-blow of sheltering trees, land-slips and rock-falls, plant competition, prolonged frost and drought.
Sporophyte populations are monitored regularly in Scotland and Cornwall.
NE is currently determining the present status of the fern at known sites.
Action plan objectives and targets
Maintain existing sporophyte populations.
Restore one colony to a former location that meets necessary criteria (under action 5.3.1) by 2004.
Proposed actions with lead agencies
Policy and legislation
No action proposed.
Site safeguard and management
Seek to ensure the requirements of the species are taken into account in site management plans and attempt to secure favourable management agreements for sites containing this species which are not protected through designation. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI), NE, FA, FE, SNH)
Consider the protection of additional sites through SSSI/ASSI notification where this is necessary to secure appropriate management and does not compromise the security of the site. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI))
Species management and protection
Consider re-introduction to four localities, in Merioneth, Cumbria, Arran and Argyll, where the precise site of previous occurrence is known, and the fern was lost either by collecting or through exceptional conditions. Use only cultivated material of known provenance to the four localities. (ACTION: CCW, NE, JNCC, SNH)
Ensure that landowners are aware of the importance and legal status of this species, appropriate methods of habitat management for its conservation and the threats currently facing known populations. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI), NE, SNH)
Ensure the relevant societies are aware of the legal and ecological implication of collecting this species. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI), NE, SNH)
Future Research and Monitoring
Continue experimental studies on the gametophyte, and seek to determine the conditions required for the production of sporophytes. (ACTION: NERC)
Consider research needs to clarify the taxonomy of the species, including the relationship between the gametophyte and sporophyte forms, and the suitability of the species for re-introduction or translocation. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI), NE, JNCC, SNH)
Compile an inventory of all sporophyte populations in cultivation, in botanic gardens and private collections, and establish provenances if possible. Consider the feasability of using material of known provenance in re-introduction experiments. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI), NE, JNCC, SNH)
Monitor all sporophyte colonies regularly to assess status of the species in the UK. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI), NE, JNCC, SNH)
Subject to confidentiality and data ownership, pass information gathered during survey and monitoring of this species to JNCC or BRC so that it can be incorporated in national databases. (ACTION: CCW, DoE(NI), NE, SNH)
Provide information annually to the World Conservation Monitoring Centre on the UK status of the species to contribute to maintenance of an up-to-date global Red Data List. (ACTION: JNCC)
Communications and Publicity
Publicity is not recommended for this species due to the risk from collectors.
Links with other action plans
Originally published in: Biodiversity: The UK Steering Group Report - Volume II: Action Plans (December 1995, Tranche 1, Vol 2, p197)
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