A report has recommended that units charged with reducing the deer population be established in “hot spot” areas where large numbers of the animals are posing an increasing “threat” to native woodlands.
A report from the Irish Deer Management Strategy Group has been published by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue and Minister of State for Nature Malcolm Noonan.
The group, chaired by dairy farmer Teddy Cashman, was set up 14 months ago to look at issues around the expanding wild deer population and developing a sustainable approach to managing it.
As well as recommending the creation of local deer-management units in hot-spot areas, it calls for a review of the current deer Open Seasons Order, which governs the times of year when deer can be hunted, and for research to be carried out on the viability of creating an independent deer management agency.
Deer have protected status in Ireland under the Wildlife Acts. However, the Department of Agriculture believes deer densities in Wicklow in particular – but also in parts of Tipperary, Waterford, Donegal and Galway – are above a sustainable level and are impacting farming, forestry, nature conservation and biodiversity.
The overall size of the deer population in Ireland is unknown because no census has ever been conducted. There are three types of deer in Ireland: the native red deer (found in Co Kerry); fallow deer; and Sika deer (which originated in Japan). The population of all three types has grown greatly in the past few decades given they have no natural predators on the island.
A record 55,000 deer were shot dead last year during open season, including an estimated 15,000 in Co Wicklow alone, where the population is estimated to stand at some 150,000.
The report said a subcommittee examining legislative changes, made up of officials and stakeholders, suggested that culls in areas with particularly problematic numbers of deer be “incentivised by payments”.
The subcommittee said “deer management groups need adequate resources in order to help achieve sustainable deer numbers”.
The final report’s recommendations included a proposal that officials “investigate support incentives necessary for national deer management programme”.
In a statement, Mr McConalogue said the growing deer population was a “considerable problem” and he would put the report’s recommendations into action at the start of next year.
“For agriculture, our natural ecosystems and in particular our forestry ambitions, it is important that we have sustainable management of our national wild deer population. However, the impact of deer proliferation extends far beyond this to road safety, animal health, public health and not least the health and welfare of the deer themselves,” he added.
Mr Noonan said an “overabundance of any species can be highly damaging to biodiversity”.
“In the case of wild deer, the most significant and obvious impact is on native woodlands. Deer browsing can prevent the natural regeneration of these habitats and inhibit their expansion, which is a particularly serious issue in ancient and long-established woodlands and can also devastate newly planted woodlands.”