Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Questions (234)

Michael Healy-Rae


234. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if she will address a matter (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [46831/19]

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Written answers (Question to Culture)

I would like to thank the Deputy for again raising this issue. As the Deputy is aware, my Department is committed to the active management of this species within the National Park and, as part of its regular ongoing management operations, carries out localised annual species' counts on State lands, where appropriate. A number of surveys, censuses and reports on the species population have been conducted in recent years, including a comprehensive survey and report in the winter of 2016 on the distribution, population density and population structure in Killarney National Park. This was followed by further census in both the spring 2017 and winter 2018.  Preliminary reported results indicate that the population density of one breed is in the region of 11.31 per square kilometre (c. 896 ) and the density of the other breed  is in the region of 6.71 per square kilometre (c. 532 ).

As a result of the population increasing, certain management issues arise, such as culling. The animals have the potential to impact significantly on woodlands, including the iconic yew, oak and also wet woodlands within the Park, for example by bark stripping of mature trees and preventing regeneration. Therefore, where deer species are increasing in range and numbers, depending on the annual count and instances of damage caused by them to habitats, culls need to be carried out to ensure that populations do not reach levels that would have negative ecological consequences. More than 240 animals were culled between 2015 and 2018. The figures for the 2018-19 cull totalled 272 animals which included both breeds. The cull for the 2019-2020 season is just underway in line with the current Open Season order.  

As the Deputy can see, our management of the species in the National Park is extensive and appropriate. However, as I have repeatedly informed the Deputy, management of animals outside of the National Park and in the wider Killarney valley area is a matter for private landholders and culling and control is not the responsibility of my Department, beyond the issuing of section 42 permits.

While the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department licenses the hunting of the animals, the Department does not own the population, they are wild animals and they roam freely throughout the countryside. Wild animals in the State are protected under the Wildlife Acts, however, there is an annual open season during which this species can be legally shot under licence. The open season operates generally from the 1st September to the last day of February, depending on the species and gender. Landowners may also apply to the Department for a permission under section 42 of the Wildlife Acts to cull where necessary outside the annual open seasons. These permissions offer a facility whereby a person can obtain a permit, on a case-by-case basis, to prevent serious damage caused by individual animals on specific lands. Permissions are only issued where there is evidence of such damage.

With regard to the issue of fencing Killarney National Park as I have previously outlined on several occasions, there are no plans to fence the National Park. Fencing is simply not a viable solution and would not achieve the desired results for a number of reasons. Firstly, the presence of the species is not confined to the National Parks and consequently fencing of these properties would serve no practical purpose in terms of wild deer control or management. Secondly, the Park is over 10.000 ha in size, including some rugged terrain. Fencing this area would be an enormous task that is unlikely to result in the desired objective. Thirdly, some smaller animals are capable of going under fencing that is eight inches off the ground, while others are capable of knocking down fences. Finally, the erection of a fence this size could also impact on the sensitive habitats within the Park.

With regard to the issue of Road Safety, this is a matter for the Road Safety Authority and the relevant Local authority. Nevertheless, I am of the view that improving sight lines for motorists as well as improved (possibly larger) signage is likely to be the most effective measure to assist motorists to be vigilant when driving through areas where populations of the animals can be expected. Officials from my Department have previously discussed this with Kerry County Council.

To conclude, the Deputy can appreciate that species management is a complex and multi-faceted process. There is a significant challenge in attempting to balance the demands of agriculture, forestry and conservation with the need to ensure that populations occupying the same land resources are managed at sustainable levels, and in a responsible and ethical manner.