Deer numbers have soared thanks to a series of mild winters, tree planting schemes, and an absence of natural predators. They are thought to be at their highest level for years. But farmers have warned that they are wreaking havoc in many areas, especially in the Partry and Tourmakeady areas, destroying woodland, crops, even gardens, and also causing a danger to motorists on the roads. Despite more than 20,000 deer being legally hunted each year, experts believe there could be five times as many around the country.
The deer have a habit of grazing in cattle pastures bordering the woodlands, sharing hay and silage with cattle in general, causing much distress to the farming community. There has been a rise recently in the number of cases of bovine tuberculosis in the area and the concern by farmers in Mayo is that this may have arisen because of the increase in numbers of wild deer. The animals can also be a danger to people: one such case this year saw where a hill walker was left gored and pinned to the ground by a wild red stag in Co Armagh. One Mayo farmer, John Hession, said the increase in deer numbers has had a huge economic effect on his farm, forcing him to source fodder and grazing lands outside the area due to the damage caused by the wild deer. He said this measure to cull might be distasteful to some, but the livelihood of farmers is at stake. Local land owners say the population of wild deer had now risen to an all time high and the numbers being culled had not kept pace with the increase.
“The current numbers being culled are not enough,” he said. “We need to be culling much higher numbers. Farmers are calling for a cull of the deer, either by hunters or conservation officers, and are asking the IFA to get involved.
“There is a significant number of farm lands that are in an unsatisfactory condition because of deer impacts,” Mr Hession added. “It is in those areas where we are working with landowners to get the habitat back into a better condition. Almost inevitably, that means culling more deer, because people haven't traditionally been culling enough. We're not trying to eliminate any herds of wildlife. What we're trying to do is humanely cull a herd and find a solution that will leave farmers and wild life activists satisfied.’’