The Department of Agriculture recently announced a three-year plan to be implemented in Wicklow to manage the growing population of deer in the Garden county. The move comes after a sharp increase of TB incidences in the county with levels now treble the national average.
Apart from the rise in TB incidences in the county, deer are causing road traffic accidents, damaging forestry and gardens and grazing pasture, according to local farmers.
“It’s not uncommon to see 15 deer grazing a field,” said Declan O’Neill, a local dairy farmer and member of Wicklow Deer Management Partnership.
According to O’Neill, the deer would graze the same amount as 15 weanlings, and he just doesn't have that to spare.
“I simply want more grass for my cows and to let them out earlier in the spring, in the current situation, I simply can’t do that,” said the dairy farmer, whose land is surrounded by forestry.
Pat Dunne, Chairperson of the Wicklow Upland Council said upland sheep farmers are ready to throw in the towel.
“Farmers can’t keep grass with the deer, they graze everything that’s there over the winter and the farmers have nothing for their animals in springtime,” he said. “I’ve seen farms decimated from the impacts of the deer.”
He also said that the novelty has worn off for homeowners and road users, who are now seeing that there is a huge problem in relation to the population of the deer. “It’s affecting everyone, not just farmers and landowners. Road traffic incidents involving deer have become increasingly regular with the growing population of deer in the county,” he said.
“Everyone can now see something has to be done,” he said.
According to Minister Andrew Doyle the objective of the project is the management of locally occurring deer populations within three newly-established deer management units located in the Wicklow region.
The programme is nothing radicle, according to Pat Dunne, Chair of the Wicklow Deer Management Partnership.
“It’s a more organised management of the deer that is already happening, a continuation of what is already in place.
“We want more co-operation between landowners and hunters so that the management of the deer numbers can happen in a more organised and structured fashion,” he said.
Livestock owners in an area will have a spokesperson and will communicate to the coordinator overseeing the programme. If an area is having a problem with deer, the co-ordinator will be notified and can instruct hunters to the areas most affected.
“It’s a collaboration between farmers and hunters so that hunters are going to the most densely stocked or worst areas to shoot,” according to Pat. “It’s a more managed approach to what is already in place.
“This is not an extermination. No one that I’ve met wants to see the deer exterminated, but they have to be managed as the numbers are increasing every year,” he said. “Up to 12,000 deer are shot every year in Wicklow and still populations are rising,” said Pat. “In order to maintain levels until next year they should be culled at a rate of 30pc every year.”
Dairy farmer Declan O’Neill said that hunters need to be persuaded to shoot the female does rather than to go for the big trophy stag.
“If you shoot a hundred stags it won’t make a difference to next year population. The female deer have to be culled in order to make any difference in the breeding population.”
Pat also said that another effect of shooting the big stags is that you’re leaving a smaller, weaker animal. “You’re effectively breeding an unhealthier animal,” he said. “We want a smaller number of healthier deer and that’s what the project will do.”