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Phoenix Park defends cull as 80 deer are shot

Up to 80 Phoenix Park deer were culled this year and the annual kill looks set to continue into the future.

Snipers are employed each year to control deer numbers in the park and just under 400 deer have been slaughtered on the park since 2004.

The cull occurs annually around February over two days and the carcasses are left to be eaten by carnivorous birds and animals that live in the park.

Fallow deer have been roaming on the 1,760-acre park since the 17th century and their population topped 1,200 during the Second World War.

"The culling is the single interference in the natural order of the park and it is necessary," a spokesperson said previously.

"We follow the strictest health and safety guidelines. The selected animals are shot, which is more environmentally friendly than poison. It is done as swiftly, safely and humanely as possible.

"It is usually necessary to carry out the shooting over two or more days as the deer get spooked when they hear a lot of gunshots. After the deer are culled, they enter the food chain," the spokesperson added.

Ten deer were killed by motorists in the park last year but when the population was 800 it "was common to have over 50 accidents each year".

Damien Hannigan, Director of the Wild Deer Association of Ireland, told the Herald that the cull was regrettable but was needed to control numbers.

"I can understand the feelings of the general public. People think of Bambi and deer really are beautiful creatures and a part of our national heritage but with no natural predators there is no alternative. There are also health issues when populations grow too large," he said.

"Culling is not something anyone does willingly but it is internationally proven as the best method to control deer numbers. To my knowledge the deer population increases by between 25-30pc each year in the wild and this would be even greater in the confines of the park. The level of land in the park can only sustain a certain number of deer.

"The culling takes place at a time when there are not many people in the park and the shooting takes place from a raised platform for safety reasons."

Suggestions made that deer should be neutered or transported elsewhere from the park instead of culling were played down by Mr Hannigan.

"The problem that you have with neutering is that during the breeding period the neutered male deer will be shunned from the herd and dispersed throughout the park," he added.

Meanwhile, thousands of mink that have escaped from fur farms and colonised much of the country, killing trout and endangered birds, are set to be culled.

Three full-time trappers have been engaged by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to catch the mink in riverside traps and kill them before they can cause more damage.

The cost of controlling the 33,000 mink population over the next five years is estimated at €1.06m.