The rising deer population in Wicklow is causing chaos for farmers who live in fear of TB, according to Wicklow IFA chair Tom Byrne.

“I’m a farmer, in particular a farmer in Wicklow where there is a huge deer problem, and I live in dread of TB. I have an area of my farm that I daren’t let cattle into because I know I will get locked up if I do,” Byrne said.

He estimates there are between 120,000 and 140,000 deer in Wicklow and says the population is “out of control”

“We have absolutely no interest in wiping out the deer herd in Wicklow completely but we want them managed and we want them controlled. We want them down to manageable numbers. A good healthy deer herd is no problem but a herd that is out of control and that’s riddled with TB is no good to anyone.”

A 2015 study, carried out by the Department of Agriculture, found that 16% of wild deer shot in the Calary area of Co Wicklow were found to be carrying TB.

About 12,500 deer are shot every year in Wicklow, however this “collapsed completely”, Byrne said. “Because of COVID-19, the bottom fell out of the venison market, which depended heavily on the restaurant trade. Venison went from about €2.20/kg down to about €4 or €5 per animal. They were making about €70 per animal before the pandemic.”

There was a national deer forum set up, Byrne said, which consisted of the NPWS, the Department of Agriculture, Coillte, all the hunting groups and all the farming groups. However, no good came of it.

“There was such vested interest in the issue, they couldn’t come to any agreement and it was abandoned,” he said.

Shooting restrictions on NPWS land in the Wicklow National Park also caused issues, Byrne said. “There was a huge population of deer on that mountain and because of bad management they came down and invaded the rest of the country.”

Deer trampling silage

Galway IFA chair Stephen Canavan said the deer situation in Galway has improved but that they are by no means at the end of the problem yet.

“We were having awful issues here last summer with deer trampling through silage ground, but things have improved since we got the NPWS on board.

“They granted section 42s [shooting licences] to farmers in certain areas who were having serious issues and the shooting licence was extended. The market for venison has also seemed to pick up a bit which has helped the situation.”

Canavan said the majority of the issues were stemming from Coillte-owned forests.

“The deer had vast areas of Coillte forests to hide and they were coming out then at night and grazing farmers’ grass.

“Incidences of TB were also higher in places with a higher deer population which is another major issue,” he said.

Road safety issues

Deer are causing a huge road safety problem in parts of Co Waterford, Fine Gael councillor for Dungarvan Pat Nugent has said. Five dead deer were seen on a 22km stretch of the Youghal, Co Cork to Tallow, Co Waterford road in a single journey this week, he said.

“There is going to have to be a major, transparent cull of the deer population sooner rather than later because the problem is getting worse,” Nugent said. “When you see carcases along the road you know it’s bad.”

Farmers, he said, are aware the deer are grazing their fields but aren’t certain how much grass is being grazed, adding “they’re eating a lot more than we realise.”