Over the last decade, available evidence suggests that the geographic distribution of all species of deer has increased, but neither the precise distribution nor the population density of these species is currently known. Deer appear to be a localised issue in many areas. In this context, there is a significant challenge in attempting to balance the demands of agriculture, forestry and conservation with the need to ensure that deer populations occupying the same land resources are managed at sustainable levels, and in a responsible and ethical manner. It is critical that landowners take ownership over this issue and organise properly to implement deer management measures on their lands in the correct and sustainable manner.
In 2015, my Department, together with the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht, published Deer Management in Ireland – A Framework for Action, which recommends a series of actions on deer management and conservation in a number of areas, including addressing the impact of deer in places where they are abundant. The Irish Deer Management Forum was established to implement the various actions listed in the Report. The Forum itself comprises representatives from the main stakeholder areas such as landowners, forestry, hunting and conservation organisations, as well as representatives from both Departments. The Report provides for a review of the workings of the Irish Deer Management Forum after three years. Both my Department and the Department of Arts, Culture and Gaeltacht are currently examining the future direction of the Forum and its aims in the context of representation on the Forum, agreed work plans and funding mechanisms.
Adoption of best practice is fully supported by both Departments and the majority of deer management stakeholders. Best practice guidance, adapted to Irish Conditions was published by the Irish Deer management Forum during 2018 and can be accessed via http://idmf.ie/best-practice-guides/.
A number of initiatives have been carried out in Co. Wicklow with a view to defining locally-led approaches to cooperative deer management. My Department is currently supporting a project led by the Wicklow Deer Management Partnership and Wicklow Uplands Forum, aimed at improving cooperation between landowners and local hunters. This project builds on previous experience in Wicklow through projects such as the Ballinastoe Deer Management Project, the Calary Deer Steering Group and the Calary/North–East Wicklow Deer TB survey. These projects provide a good example for other local groups to follow, in areas affected by deer related issues.
The Manor Kilbride Deer Management Group in West Wicklow has also produced very useful and practical code of practice for landowners, to guide successful deer management implementation on farmland, and to formalise agreements between landowners and hunters.
The deer grazing assessment protocol developed by the Wicklow Deer Management project in conjunction with Teagasc is an example for a significant methodology developed for measuring the impact of deer in agriculture, and to improve awareness of deer issues among farmers.
I am encouraging farming groups and local communities concerned with deer population issues to look at the examples from Co. Wicklow and consider how they can follow these in their own areas.
In relation to forestry, my Department introduced a Deer Fencing and Tree Shelter Scheme to protect forests from predation by deer in 2018 as deer can cause serious damage to trees, particularly in native woodlands. Additionally, my Department has also engaged with the Society of Irish Foresters, Teagasc and Third Level Institutes in the delivery of deer management training to professional Foresters and Contractors through a series of seminars and field training events. This work is ongoing.