Plans to classify Japanese sika deer as an invasive alien species across Europe are causing alarm among Irish deer management organisations.
If declared an invasive species, sika deer, common in places like Killarney National Park since the mid-19th century, would be placed on a list with a view to their eradication.
The species is spreading on the continent and causing damage to forestry, affecting livestock and posing a risk to humans in road collisions, according to a risk assessment accepted by the EU scientific forum on alien species.
Damian Hannigan of the Irish Deer Commission has called on Minister of State for Heritage Malcolm Noonan to ensure a derogation is secured for Ireland if the measure is adopted later this year at European level.
Should they be classified as such, he said, it would lead to sika deer being regarded as vermin.
Animal welfare issues
“It would mean deer could be shot all year round resulting in significant animal welfare issues for dependent young whose mothers are shot,” Mr Hannigan said of the invasive species classification.
Restrictions on hunting during the Covid-19 pandemic led to a spike in sika numbers. A comprehensive count has never been completed but some 55,000 deer are culled annually in Ireland during hunting season.
There are also fears about sika crossbreeding with red deer, though there is no record of this happening at Killarney National Park.
Mr Hannigan accepted that excessive deer numbers can negatively impact farming, forestry and the ecosystem but said, when sustainably managed, they can have “a positive impact on woodland regeneration”.