Recreational hunting is inadequate as a deer conservation measure and as a method to control the serious economic damage to grassland, crops and woodlands by wild deer, according to Manor Kilbride Deer Management Project (MKDMP) chair Sean Eustace.
A professional cull is periodically necessary to reduce densities to tolerable levels in districts where numbers and deer damage warrant this. Recreational hunting may then maintain numbers at sustainable levels, according to the MKDMP.
Despite reasonably active hunting in the Kilbride area of Co Wicklow, large numbers of deer are regularly sighted and reported to the local deer management group. Although not claimed as a valid census, numbers range from two to 18, but also include large herds from 30 to 60 deer.
There is also evidence that significant numbers are coming into farmyards at night and feeding off silage alongside cattle.
While it is difficult and expensive to accurately conduct a deer census, the adverse effects of over-population are readily identifiable and measurable.
An overabundance of deer is negative for deer health, over-grazing habitats, damage to agriculture and woodland, migration to urban areas and surrounding counties and increased risks of deer traffic collisions.
A strategic principle outlined in Deer Management in Ireland – A Framework for Action states that lead responsibility for deer management lies with landowners and land managers.
However, regulatory and administrative systems around licencing and hunting seasons are seen by most farmers as bureaucratic and limiting to what needs to be done.
The Manor Kilbride group, comprised of hunting and farming interests among its stakeholders, agrees that even an extension of one month to the deer-hunting season in Wicklow from the end of February to the end of March could have a very positive impact. This had been approved by Minister Jimmy Deenihan some years ago, but still has not been enacted.
According to Sean Eustace, there is a strong case to adopt the Scottish model for out of season shooting of deer, whereby there is a general authorisation for occupiers suffering damage to improved agricultural land or enclosed woodlands to control deer in the closed season.