More work needed to curb Ireland's deer population
As our largest wild land mammal, deer are magnificent creatures and fully deserving of their place in the environment. However, their numbers have been on the increase for many years now and they cause widespread damage in our woodlands.
Deer damage trees by browsing and by fraying their antlers, and because of their sheer size they continue to pose a threat to trees for rather longer than the smaller browsing mammals already mentioned.
The damage to the timber caused by fraying can be extreme and the full extent may not be apparent until it comes under the saw.
Focus has fallen on the three main species, the native red deer, the Japanese sika deer, a nineteenth-century introduction, and the fallow deer. Historically, fallow deer is the species of estate parkland and now widespread in the wild.
In recent years, there have been reported sightings of the muntjac, probably imported illegally for hunting, and unless it can be rapidly controlled its numbers will also escalate.
In Wicklow, the native red has hybridised with the sika, though it is now believed that the extent of such cross-breeding, certainly in localised areas, is not as great as once thought.
For reasons that are still unclear such hybridisation does not appear to have happened in Kerry, even though sika are abundant and the two species can often be seen in the same vicinity.
A number of factors have contributed to the increase in numbers. The considerable increase in afforestation since the early 1980s has also increased their habitat; recreational hunting has accelerated their dispersal through the illegal practice of releasing and/or relocating animals; forest management practices such as clear-felling and deer fencing can push deer into new areas; and during the heyday of deer farming, many deer were deliberately or accidentally released into the wild.