A number of severely emaciated Sika deer on Inisfallen Island, the monastic island in the heart of the Killarney National Park, have had to be culled, after deer were found to have starved to death on the island last week.
The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has confirmed that 27 deer were shot in the cull carried out by rangers on the 21-acre island, after the discovery of four dead Sika on the island. Around 15 remain.
It has said balancing the needs of deer and ecology is 'challenging'.
The island is where Brian Boru studied and its annals, chronicle of the south west, composed in the 11 century are in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Sika deer, which arrived on the island a decade ago, were allowed to breed in large numbers, but according to local reports, bark on the island’s trees has been completely stripped and almost every inch of ground is bare.
Local councillor John Joe Culloty, who is a member of the national park liaison committee, said the the whole ecology has been destroyed in the island, which is around one mile off Ross Castle, and is much visited during the summer months.
Mr Culloty uncovered the dire situation last week after finding the deceased animals. "The numbers of the deer have gone out of control in the National Park and the numbers have spread out onto private land."
He said the whole ecology of Inisfallen has been destroyed by deer. He wants all deer taken off the historic island and says overall management issues of the park badly need to be addressed.
“Every tree that can be bark-stripped, is bark stripped because the animals are starving,and the ground is as bare as it could possibly be,” Mr Culloty said.
“To get the island back it needs to be kept clear of deer."
Numbers of the unique Red deer and Sika are said by some to be out of control in south Kerry and lack of manpower in Ireland’s first national park is being blamed for what is widely seen as a degeneration of the woods and ecology.
There are persistent calls for a widespread cull, as well as allowing farmers to shoot the deer which are found on farms as well as in Killarney town centre.
Their exact numbers are not known but there are several hundred of both Red and Sika deer in the Killarney forests alone.
A total of 97 deer were culled in March of this year.
The cull would normally take place in the autumn before the mating season, so rangers would have the proper firearms certification.
There is no regeneration of oak and deciduous woodlands in Killarney, because of deer numbers and a number of road deaths and serious accidents have also been attributed to deer straying onto the roads.
Wildlife rangers, whose duties take them beyond the park to oversee other protected habitats and species now number just four– less than half the numbers previously employed in the park.
Around a decade ago, a small number of Sika, a Japanese species which was introduced in the nineteenth century, swam the short distance from Ross Caste to the island. However, their numbers were not controlled.
Meanwhile, in a statement, the Department of Heritage this weekend said balancing deer and forestry is challenging for them, but it has promised to carry out culls going forward.
“Innisfallen Island is visited on a regular basis by NPWS and has been inspected by expert ecologists".
It also said the Department commissioned a comprehensive survey and report in the winter of 2016 on the distribution, population density and population structure of Red deer and Sika deer in Killarney National Park.
“There is a significant challenge in attempting to balance the demands of agriculture, forestry and conservation with the need to ensure that deer populations occupying the same land resources are managed at sustainable levels, and in a responsible and ethical manner.
"Ultimately, however, where deer species are increasing in range and numbers, depending on the annual count and instances of damage caused by deer to habitats (especially woodland), culls need to be carried out to ensure that deer populations do not reach levels that would have negative ecological consequences.”