Deer explosion now grave worry
A management plan to cut deer numbers is vital, as is public education on the problems they pose
There is currently no national deer management policy in Ireland despite the serious damage deers are causing to our woodland. There is also very little cooperation between the various State bodies with responsibility in this area.
This situation has led to a population explosion among deer in the wild and continuing heavy financial losses for many woodland owners. It has also been alleged that in some cases, animals are being bought from deer farms and illegally released into the wild to increase the numbers available for sportsmen to shoot. If this is true then the very people who are in a position to control deer numbers are in fact partially responsible for their increase. This is, of course, perhaps only natural in that all sportsmen, be they hunters, shooters or fishermen, want to conserve and increase the numbers of the species they hunt.
Fishermen are the ones who are the guardians of our water quality, and most angling clubs stock rivers and lakes to ensure sustainable sport for their members. Gun clubs rear pheasants and ducks and conserve habitat to allow their quarry increase in numbers. This is, of course, right and proper. Pheasants, woodcock or fish do not damage the natural environment and provide excellent sport in addition to badly needed income in rural areas through sport tourism.
Deer, however, cause havoc among young forestry plantations by browsing and stripping bark from the trunks of young trees. Natural regeneration cannot occur where deer numbers are high and the cost of fencing them out is prohibitively expensive. Where fencing does occur, it pushes the population into neighbouring woodland and simply passes on the problem. The same can occur where clearfelling takes place and the deer then move on and the problem is passed to the unfortunate owners of adjoining woodland.
In the past some deer farms have closed due to financial losses, and anecdotal evidence suggests that in some cases their remaining stock has been released into the wild. This would, of course, further increase the problem as farmed deer are able to adapt to life in the woods. The public perception of deer tends to be one of shy, attractive creatures frolicking in sunlit clearings in woodland -- Bambi is probably what first springs to mind whenever deer are mentioned.
However, like grey squirrels, deer numbers must be controlled and the public have to first be educated and made aware of the reality of the situation. This can best be achieved by starting with good wildlife education in our schools. The CRISIS (Combined Research and Investigation of Squirrels in Irish Silviculture) group has done a wonderful job in informing the general public of the damage grey squirrels cause to our native reds and to our woods and wildlife habitat.
The same approach is now needed to allow for a coordinated culling of deer and the restoration of a sustainable and manageable population.