RUTHLESS poachers are preying on herds of wild deer in the Slane and Collon areas, causing a siginifcant decrease in their numbers in recent years.
The deer, who whose forebearers escaped or were released from deer farms up to 50 years ago, roam large areas of east Meath and on to Collon and Monasterboice, some causing accidents on the M1 and N2, straying across the open road.
Poachers now see them as highly valuable, with an illegal dealer in the Meath area purchasing the venison meat on a 'weigh and pay' system.
There have been four incidents in as many months, where vehicles have struck the animals, and experts are calling for a review of fencing and safety barriers in areas where herds roam freely.
' Wild deer making their way onto the motorway is a huge problem, although it happens most often in the rutting season in autumn,' says expert Andrew McKeever, 'and is very dangerous for both the animal and the motorist.
'The herds, which are most prevalent in Slane and Collon, are a wonderful asset to the countryside, and it's amazing they have survived the development in the area, but numbers have been hugely depleted recently, and not by road incidents, but by a serious poaching problem in the area.'
Andrew says poachers are being attracted by a 'weigh and pay' system operated by a venison dealer working in the locality, and the population is way down.
'However, there are still many small herds which stretch through the Boyne Valley from Collon, as far as Ravensdale. Most of them were escapees from Slane Deer Park in the 50s, or when hard times hit the deer farmers, they let them all loose.,' he says.
'This asset to the countryside should be protected more.'
Chairman of the Hunting Association of Ireland Gavin Duffy suggests the NRA should look at raising the level of fencing used where herds of wild deer roam.
'They have been criticised in the past because if they raised their stock-proof fencing an extra 2 feet, or three rails, it may stop a stag from jumping over them, however this would mean extra expense,' says the Bellewstown resident.
'The one main herd in this area was always the Hilltown herd, which roam from Stamullen to Bellewstown, however when the M1 opened in 2005, this unsettled them, and they stumble onto the motorway near the toll booth quite a bit.'
Wild deer also graze in Townley Hall woods, coming from the Slane direction, although a herd can travel up to 40km per day and are free to roam across land.
' They can prove a great danger to motorists as if startled or rutting, they can break into great bursts of speed, and being hit by a stag is they same as being hit by a cow or horse,' adds Gavin.