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Tuesday 5 December 2023 Dublin: 4°C
Alamy Stock Photo File photo of sika deer
deer strategy

Concerns that Ireland's plan for deer will lead to 'inhumane' recommendations

A forum is set to recommend proposals for Ireland’s largest land mammal.

AN EXPERT GROUP participating in the government’s strategy for managing Ireland’s deer population has hit out at the process, describing the talks as having “no links to any scientific evidence” in how it’s reached its conclusions. 

The Irish Deer Commission said it fears the forum will soon propose the hunting of female deer with dependent calves earlier in the shooting season, thereby leading to the risk of an “inhumane death due to starvation” facing young deer.

Over 55,000 deer were culled in Ireland in 2020 by 6,500 licensed deer hunters.

In its intervention, the Commission, which is made up of hunters and conservationists, said it found views being put forward during the Deer Management Strategy group’s meetings which were “not linked to any scientific or other evidence”, often promoting the culling of female deer with dependent young earlier in the year.

They have sought an urgent meeting with the government’s Heritage Minister who has responsibility for the Open Culling Season Order for wild deer, Green Party TD Malcolm Noonan.

The department, in correspondence seen by The Journal, has contested this stance and expressed confidence in the deer forum’s work. 

The group said it has spoken out partly because of an “increase in the number of poaching or violent” incidents it has received over the past year.

These range from where “deer are shot and dumped in the countryside”, or an increase in poaching of the creatures.

Damien Hannigan, spokesperson for the Irish Deer Commission, said “ill-informed” and “hate-filled” commentary were part of attempts to reduce a “protected and iconic species to the level of vermin”. 

Deer strategy

Earlier this year, 86% of 1,500 respondents told the first major public consultation into the impact of deer that a cull was needed of the national herd.

Similar numbers also said the population was damaging biodiversity and others complained about damage to farm crops and road safety.

Deer can also cause issues for farmers and have been linked to TB outbreaks in cattle in recent years.  

The forum was launched by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The latter department has responsibility for the area through the National Parks and Wildlife Service.

It is understood the strategy forum’s recommendations on the country’s deer population are imminent.

Neither department responded when contacted by The Journal. However, correspondence sent to the Irish Deer Commission by Minister Malcolm Noonan’s office said that the forum had been “ably” monitored and it awaited the recommendations.

It added that “the department understands that a considerable amount of work” has taken place in the forum and that there has been “very positive collaboration across all interested parties”.

“We await the conclusion of these deliberations and any recommendations that may come from it,” said the correspondence seen by The Journal

‘Landowner pressure’

While the Irish Deer Commission said it supports reducing deer numbers through culling, it said it felt that decision making was being led by “landowner or political pressure”.

“Observers are primarily concerned about the welfare implications for those juveniles not shot with the mother who are then orphaned and suffer an inhumane death due to starvation,” the Irish Deer Commission said.

A spokesperson for the group, Damien Hannigan said a “record number” of wild deer are being culled in Ireland, with over 55,000 deer culled in 2020 by 6,500 licensed deer hunters.

Hannigan also contested claims that deer numbers have increased, saying that it “remains unknown as a count has never been completed”. 

In the absence of supporting evidence we may be culling too many deer, or not enough, any attempt to change the open seasons order that creates animal welfare issues for dependent young and will cause outrage from the general public, those involved in the management, or conservation of our wild deer – a protected species under our Wildlife Acts and our largest land mammal.

The current open culling season for female deer in Ireland – except for red deer in Co Kerry where red deer are legally protected – is 1 November to 28 February.

An “alignment with Northern Ireland”, where the female deer are culled from 1 November to 31 March is considered “more acceptable and humane” by the Irish Deer Commission. 

According to the Irish Deer Commission, there were also suggestions during the strategy forum’s meetings that Fallow and Sika deer, which were introduced into Ireland centuries ago, should be reclassified as an invasive species.

It fears this would cause the removal of all protection under wildlife legislation and would lead to “widespread” animal welfare issues. 

The group added that where deer numbers are excessive, they can have “negative impacts” on farming, forestry and the wider ecosystem, but urged efforts to ensure deer are conserved.

This would allow the creatures to have a “positive impact on woodland regeneration by browsing on plant species which restrict the regeneration of native woodlands”.

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