A new report from the Wicklow Uplands Council has recommended that the focus of deer management plans in Wicklow should be reducing the adverse impacts associated with deer, increased culling of female deer and the promotion of venison as a healthy and sustainable product.
It has also estimated economic losses due to deer grazing of grass could be up to €180 per acre, rubbished ideas of introducing wolves and hit out at Coillte for not having accurate data on deer damage, and for poor practices when it comes to selling of hunting rights, claiming the organisation’s policy is to sell rights to the highest bidder with no regard for sustainable management.
The report was published by Wicklow Uplands Council to mark the conclusion of the Wicklow Deer Management Project, which was launched in 2018 to research and manage what is widely accepted as the highest deer population density in the country.
It cost €119,203 and was funded through the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, being managed jointly by Wicklow Uplands Council and the Wicklow Deer Management Partnership to finish last year.
Its principal aim was the establishment of Deer Management Units (DMUs) – A DMU being defined as an area of land where landowners, hunters and other interested parties come together to manage deer in a sustainable and agreed manner in an effort to reduce adverse impacts.
Five DMU’s were initiated, two in west Wicklow, one in east Wicklow and two in the south of the county. The work carried out in these areas found that Wicklow is at the forefront of deer management issues in Ireland, with the number of deer culled in the county consistently over 30 per cent of the national deer cull and the number of licences issued for deer shooting also significantly greater than any other county.
During the course of the project, it was found that mostly sika deer live in Wicklow, but some fallow deer were recorded in the east Wicklow DMU and some hybrids were present in the second of two west Wicklow DMUs.
Among the 12 recommendations outlined by the report was a call for landowners to consider the leasing of hunting carefully as they have “ultimate responsibility” for ensuring that hunters on their lands are operating effectively. There was also a reminder that the sharing of accurate data between landowners and hunters is “an absolute necessity in this regard”.
Project Manager, Pat Mellon, reiterated this when commenting on the report, saying: ‘”The collection of accurate cull data was critical to understanding the level of deer management activity in the DMUs and monitor their progress.
"In that regard, the open sharing of information between landowner and hunter is vital for the delivery of any sustainable deer management programme.”
He added: “Sustainable deer management requires a professional approach including an increased emphasis on the culling of female deer to better manage the breeding population.”
What was not recommended was the introduction of wolves to the area with the report stating that this is “an unrealistic solution for Wicklow”. Instead humans need to mimic the actions of predators, culling the sick, weak and female deer first.
"Solely hunting the largest male animals for trophy heads is not a long term solution for effective deer management,” the report stated.
During the five-year project 1,520 deer were culled, mostly in the south Wicklow area, with carcasses then sold by the hunters into food supply chains based in Wicklow and Kildare. As the project progressed, the culls sustained a 2:1 female to male deer ratio. There was also collaboration with chefs via Wicklow Naturally to create a Wicklow venison signature dish that is still in the works.
In making the recommendation regarding leasing of hunting, the report stated: “commitment from all parties is needed, especially from NPWS and Coillte. The most levelled criticism during the project was at Coillte who seem not to have an accurate if any data on deer damage. Their selling of hunting rights to the highest bidder plays no part in sustainable management and needs to be revaluated in areas of increasing deer numbers.”
The report also detailed several initiatives carried out under the auspices of the project including field tests which recorded potential grassland yield losses due to grazing impact and a TB testing pilot which identified the presence of TB in deer in an area of west Wicklow.
Coordinator of Wicklow Uplands Council, Brian Dunne, said: “The project tested a successful framework for bringing together the various parties required to form an effective DMU. There is now a need for a longer-term, well-resourced and collaborative sustainable deer management programme in Wicklow.”
A renewed call for the reformation of the The National Deer Management Forum, which has not met since 2018, was also recommended, along with ensuring suitably qualified co-ordinators are appointed to head up DMUs.
The group also felt further research should be carried out on the full impacts of deer on conservation habitats and biodiversity, and what economic loss they cause to grassland and forestry.
To read the full report visit the Wicklow Uplands Sustainable Deer Management Project website.