URGENT action to control the deer population, which is said to have “exploded” in areas like East Clare, is being sought, writes Fiona McGarry.
Two farming organisations have appealed to the Department of Agriculture to reinstate a national forum to manage the population, as concerns intensify about links between bovine TB and uncontrolled numbers of certain deer species.
The Deputy President of ICMSA has told the joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture that the presence and prevalence of Bovine TB after “70 years and counting” of continuous TB Eradication Programmes was a damning indictment of official oversight and efforts.
Lorcan McCabe said that far from moving forward at an appropriate rate, the latest eradication programme seemed condemned to repeat the mistakes and inaction that had given us several decades of missed opportunities and often ruinous expense for farmers.
Mr McCabe noted that ICMSA alone had attended 30 meetings on TB strategy in just the past year. He said that farmers “desperately” wanted this latest eradication drive to succeed, but there was no sign of a corresponding commitment from other parties to the strategy.
Mr McCabe said that we were still left looking at a growing problem where “obvious measures” that would address it were not being taken.
“It should be a matter of embarrassment to us all that we still have not eradicated this and certainly ICMSA wants a new drive and determination on this.
“But we’re not sure that others actually grasp the extent of this problem and the overwhelming need to really go at the outbreaks themselves and the measures that we know are contributing to the outbreaks,” he said.
Meanwhile, the IFA, addressing the same committee, IFA Animal Health Chair said: “The commencement of the wildlife programme in the early 2000s reduced these numbers to less than 16,000 by 2013.
“There is no doubt a number of factors have contributed to the increase in reactor numbers since then, but central to this has been the lack of progress in enhancing the wildlife control programme prior to and since then until recently.”
Evidence has been increasing on the connection between deer and bovine TB.
In 2018, research supported by the Department of Agriculture on TB in deer found that in certain areas where there are high densities of deer, cattle and badgers living alongside each other, the same strains of TB can circulate between them.
It found no evidence that deer play a significant role in the spread of TB to cattle in most parts of Ireland. Last year, however, further research supported by the Department and involving the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) and Trinity College Dublin indicated a link.
County-level data showed that counties with more sika deer also had higher bovine TB levels.
The most recent data available shows a rise in sika deer numbers between 2000 when they numbered around 40 to 2018, when the number was at 144.
At one point, sika numbered more than 400 in Clare, and concern has been expressed in the last couple of years about their rise due to a backlog of culling licences. The Irish Deer Management Forum, comprising representatives from the main stakeholder areas such as landowners, forestry, hunting and conservation organisations, last met in March 2018.
Last year, the Minister for Agriculture said both his Department and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, which is the parent Department of the NPWS, are “in the process of examining the future direction of the Forum and its aims in the context of representation on the Forum as well as funding mechanisms”.