WILD DEER roaming the countryside are to be culled by conservationists in a bid to protect farmlands and maintain herds humanely.
For the first time in the Republic, licensed deer stalkers will be called out by farmers to shoot the protected species if they are damaging crops, forests or causing traffic accidents.
Despite more than 20,000 deer being legally hunted each year, experts believe there could be five times as many around the country.
The new deer management programme – announced by the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), the Irish Deer Society and the Wild Deer Association of Ireland – will also advise landowners on other ways to manage deer on their property.
Paul Wood, of the Irish Deer Society, said the scheme was not about killing huge numbers of deer but about dealing with localised problems. “We are a conservation organisation. We are not a deer-shooting organisation, but deer have no natural enemies and therefore the rifle is an important management tool,” said Mr Wood.
“It is possible this could cause some controversy because people don’t understand the problem. People don’t realise there are so many deer. But I would prefer to see deer shot humanly and properly and carefully, rather than a free fall and people taking it into their own hands.
“If there’s going to be a management situation, it must be done correctly and properly.
“Unmanaged deer herds can increase annually by 30 per cent.
“Proper management conducted during the open season should reduce the need for Section 42 licences, which allow the hunting of female deer out of season and can leave calves on their own.”
The IFA said the rise in deer numbers poses a threat to road-users and private property.
Deputy president Derek Deane encouraged farmers who have problems with deer numbers to use the scheme, which will preserve the deer population in their own environment.
“The dramatic rise in deer numbers in the last few years has posed problems for farmers, including fence damage, encroaching on crops, grazing of pastureland and increasing the risk of disease outbreaks,” said Mr Deane.
“All these have financial implications for farmers.
“The IFA recognises the value of maintaining a healthy herd, but it must be within the natural environment for the deer.”
President of the Wild Deer Association of Ireland Pat Scully said education will also be an element to programme. “Part of the problem is down to a lack of deer-management knowledge,” he added. “Hunters often concentrate on culling male deer because they want a set of trophy antlers.
“This does very little to control deer numbers as female numbers escalate. This approach does little for farmers or for the national deer herd.”