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Anger over calls for 50,000 deer to be culled in Wicklow

Deer experts say the calls are based on bad science.

A young Sika deer in low sunlight in Co. Wicklow.
A young Sika deer in low sunlight in Co. Wicklow.
Image: Shutterstock/Remizov

DEER EXPERTS HAVE labelled as “armchair science” some claims that up to 50,000 deer need to be culled in Wicklow to protect cattle and other livestock from TB.

Research has shown that cattle TB rates in parts of west Wicklow are about four times the national average with some farmers blaming the native deer population for spreading the disease.

A separate study by the Irish Deer Management Forum recommended that deer density in the Calary area of Wicklow needed to be reduced, but Damien Hannigan of the Wild Deer Association of Ireland said this is nothing to do with TB.

“One or two of the farming organisation, they were calling for culls of 50,000 deer in Wicklow and things like that.”

In the academic world and scientific world there has been concerns about these comments. One, it’s unnecessarily vilifying wild deer and secondly it’s doing nothing for farmers that are really genuinely affected by the financial consequences of TB.

“Understandably if you’re a farmer and you’ve been impacted by the financial consequences of TB, and Wicklow has a significant problem with TB, you’re looking for answers basically.”

Hannigan also adds that, regardless of the need to reduce deer density in Wicklow, the 50,000 figure is way off the mark:

It’s important to state that in Wicklow or anywhere in Ireland, there’s no work in terms of numbers, there’s no trends in terms of population increasing or decreasing. So when someone says we should cull 50,000 deer in Wicklow, that’s completely armchair science or finger in the wind guessing.

‘Misleading’

Both issues were raised in the Dáil earlier this month with Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming asking the minister about “misleading claims” that a cull on that magnitude is needed.

“There is presently no conclusive evidence of a link between the strain of bovine tuberculosis in cattle and the strain in the wild deer herd,” Fleming told the Dáil.

In response, Agriculture Minister Michael Creed agreed that there is indeed no conclusive evidence to prove this link but added that,

my officials are of the view that this is highly likely.

The minister also said that further testing is being carried out samples from TB-infected deer that were culled in 2015.

“While it is the case that deer do not normally spread TB to cattle, my department accepts that the relatively high density of deer and the high incidence of TB in the deer in the area poses a risk to cattle, as well as, indeed to pasture and forestry,” Creed told the Dáil.

Read: Reindeer are shrinking: Warmer weather threatens Christmas icon >

Read: US hunter ‘paid substantial sum’ for licence to shoot rare red deer in Killarney >

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Rónán Duffy

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