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Wednesday 27 August 2014

Major wild deer cull 'urgently needed' to combat TB - IFA

Cases of bovine TB rise sharply

Jerome Reilly

Published 06/07/2014 | 02:30

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Deer numbers have rocketed in recent years and the population explosion has forced deer from the uplands and onto farmland.
A stag pictured in the Phoenix Park. Picture: Damien Eagers
A stag pictured in the Phoenix Park. Picture: Damien Eagers

A MAJOR cull of the wild deer of Wicklow is urgently needed as cases of bovine TB rises sharply in the Garden County and farmers count the cost of damaged crops, broken fences and lost pasture.

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Deer numbers have rocketed in recent years and the population explosion has forced deer from the uplands and onto farmland.

Now cases of TB on Wicklow farms is four times the national average.

Wicklow IFA chairman Tom Shortt blames deer and badgers. “Deer densities should be about four to five deer per square kilometre but some experts now suggest that there are about 14 to 15 deer per square kilometre in Wicklow,” said Mr Shortt

He added that there have also been a number of serious traffic accidents where deer have jumped out in front of cars, lorries and cyclists.

The TB crisis in Wicklow and parts of north Wexford is deeply worrying and is now a national issue,IFA president, Eddie Downey told the Sunday Independent.

In south Wicklow and north Wexford almost one in every 12 herds are “locked up” because of TB.

“You have very sick deer running across family farms and spreading disease. No-one likes to hear it but a cull is needed,” Mr Downey said.

He added there was urgent need to examine the situation regarding badgers which also carry TB.

“It is causing major hardship for families. The deer have come down from the uplands and once they get a taste for young sweet grass they tend to hang around,” he added.

According to Tom Shortt another factor is stricter controls on burning on the uplands.  “Burning meant there was a crop of small tender heather on the mountains. Now the heather is very tough and very strong and the deer just don’t like that.”

Tomas Bourke of the IFA Animal Health Executive says deer have no natural predators in Ireland and numbers of Sika deer in particular are extremely high.

The Japanese deer species came to Ireland when one stag and three hinds were introduced by Lord Powerscourt in 1860. The main herds of wild Sika deer remain concentrated in Kerry and Wicklow.

While they are associated with damaged fences, the destruction of agricultural crops and heavy consumption of grassland, the major problem  remains the spread of disease.

The number of restricted herds nationally last year was 3.9pc but in Wexford and Wicklow the figures were 8.4pc and 7.7pc,respectively according to official Department of Agriculture figures.

While the number of restricted herds in Wexford has fallen this year, the numbers in Wicklow remain stubbornly high at more than 7pc.

 The Department accepts that the higher incidence of TB in Wexford and Wicklow is driven by wildlife.

“The later implementation of the badger culling programme in these counties due to staffing reasons, and the particular terrain involved makes badger culling more difficult. This has impeded progress in eradication. The staffing issue has been addressed and the badger culling programme is now being implemented more effectively,” the Department said.

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