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Deer hunting licence delays prompts concern over farm and forest damage

DEER are said to be causing significant damage to farms and forests in East Clare, with the pandemic being blamed for a slow-down in the processing of permits for hunters, five weeks into open season.

Concerns have also been raised about the ongoing issue of illegal deer hunting, which a major conservation and management organisation described as a recurring problem in the east of the county.

“There are landowners in East Clare who might go out to find 30 to 40 deer on their grazing,” said William Shortall of the IFA  said. “As the population of deer expands, they’re competing for food and that’s what drives them into grassland areas and tillage. What we need in the long term is an agency with responsibility for the overall management of deer, who will be able to put effective plans in place to control their numbers. We’re entering the rut now, where stags move off their territory in search of females, so there’s a lot more movement with the risks that that brings of damage to crops and grasslands.”

Because deer don’t have a natural predator in Ireland, humane culling is regarded as the only means of maintaining the population at sustainable levels and managing their impact on farming, forestry and the wider ecosystem.

The east of the county was previously described as a “deer hotspot” in an inter-agency framework drawn up in 2015 for deer management. A member of the expert advisory group told The Champion there was a serious encroachment issue in localised areas.

Damien Hannigan of the Irish Deer Commission said his organisation works to conserve and manage Ireland’s three deer species, in collaboration with farmers and foresters.

“There is no census of deer in Ireland, so we don’t have hard data on where they are located, but we have anecdotal evidence,” Mr Hannigan said. “That information would also help us to identify what we call ‘deer conflict areas’ where animals have caused accidents on the roads or encroached on land. We need objective measurements if we are to accurately identify local conflict areas.

“While licensed deer hunters currently manage deer numbers adequately in the vast majority of areas in Clare, we sympathise with and support those farmers who are impacted negatively where deer numbers become unsustainable,” he said. “It is crucial that deer management decisions are well-founded, not simply arbitrary or seat-of-the-pants as a result of unqualified pressure and that management decisions should be factual and scientific based.”

Mr Hannigan added that a global collapse in the price of venison this year would remove some of the incentive for licensed deer hunters.

“Because restaurants aren’t operating to capacity because of the pandemic, the meat has dropped in price in the order to 60 to 70%,” he said. “Combined with the delay in the issuing of permits, that will mean far fewer deer will be culled, resulting in increased damage for forestry, farming and the wider ecosystem.”

The drop in prices has also deterred some who hunt deer illegally, but according to Mr Hannigan meat sales are not the motivation of many who engage in the practice.

“All too often, those who hunt without licences use specially bred dogs to hunt the animals down,” he said. “The deer are bludgeoned to death in some cases and their carcasses just left behind. The aim is not to sell the meat and, unfortunately, this is an ongoing problem in Clare.”

In response to a parliamentary question, tabled on behalf of the Irish Deer Commission, Minister Darragh O’Brien said delays in the issuing of licences this year were the result of changes to work practices in response to the pandemic. He acknowledged the delays and said staff are “working flat out to eliminate the backlog”.

Up to February of last year, 185 deer-hunting licences were issued in Clare, with 2,419 declared culls. Under the Wildlife Act, landowners can get permits to cull deer and there were 15 of those issued in 2019.

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