Kerry TD, Michael Healy-Rae has said that 500 deer per week would need to be culled in Kerry, in the short-term, to tackle the serious problem that the deer population there is posing to farmers, and to the health and safety of people.

The Kerry TD called on Minister of State, Malcolm Noonan, to treat the matter with the seriousness it deserves during a Dáil debate this week.

There was a time when 200 deer per week were being culled in Kerry, Deputy Healy-Rae said, but that is no longer happening.

The resulting rise in the population, he said, is responsible for road traffic accidents; and is causing frustration for farmers as they deal with large numbers on their land, as well as damaging and breaking fencing.

“The deer population has exploded beyond what we can put up with,” he said.

Accidents and farming impacts

“On a daily basis, emanating from the Killarney National Park, all you see now are deer,” said Deputy Healy-Rae.

“Before, it used to be very late at night when you would see them – when it is quiet – but you can actually have them anytime now.

“I am sure that we have had deaths from people’s cars leaving the road [because of deer]. The evidence of the deer may not be there, but we have had tragedies over the years and I am sure that this could be put down to them coming out onto the road.”

Woman injured by stag
It emerged during this Dáil debate that a woman in Co. Kerry had been injured recently by a stag. She was subsequently airlifted to hospital. Minister Noonan sympathised with the woman and wished her a speedy recovery but added:
“In this case, attempts had been made to domesticate the deer and I want to remind people that these are wild animals and it is important to keep your distance from them, and stay alert.
“It is also inadvisable to attempt to domesticate or feed such an animal, this is not only dangerous but could be damaging to the animal’s ability to survive or thrive in the wild.”

Deputy Healy-Rae spoke of two family members – father and son – involved in recent road traffic accidents on two consecutive days as a result of deer on the road.

“He was going to work of a morning very early, hit a deer, and crashed his car. The following morning, his son hit one. That is two cars out of a household in two days. It is a daily occurrence now if you are going over Molls Gap,” Deputy Healy-Rae said.

A farmer, he said, recently encountered a herd of 26 deer in a field with his cattle.

“That is the same as a herd of cattle from your neighbour being inside in your field, eating your grass.

“We have all heard about the cost of fertiliser this year, people are going to be growing grass to have it eaten – in many cases – by roaming deer.

“Whatever else a farmer can afford to do, he can’t afford to be feeding the deer from the national park.”

Deputy Healy-Rae said what is required now has “gone beyond a cull”.

“It is an eradication programme we require because the population has increased so much.”

Management of deer

Responding, Minister Noonan provided details about the National Parks and Wildlife Service’s (NPWS) role in the management of deer populations in our national parks and nature reserves.

To this end, he said that since 2016, more than 2,000 deer have been culled in our national parks, 900 of these animals were from Killarney National Park.

During 2021 alone, 436 were culled in the Wicklow Mountains National Park; 44 were culled in Glenveigh; and 234 were culled in Killarney National Park.

“The NPWS and my department are committed to the active management of deer species within the state-owned national parks and nature reserves and as part of its management operations, and the NPWS carries out regular surveys and census reports on the animals on our sites,” he said.

Where appropriate, and depending on annual counts or whether it is evident that damage is being caused by deer to habitats, especially woodland, culls may be needed to ensure that deer populations do not reach levels that would be negative to the ecology of the parks, the minister added.

Token culls

But Deputy Healy-Rae said that, in providing these statistics, the minister had “let the genie out of the bottle”.

“Look at the statistics. You are boasting that there were 234 taken out of the Killarney National Park in a year. We were doing that per week in the 1980s. Now, do you understand the extent of the problem?” he said.

Private land – private matter

But Minister Noonan said that the increasing deer populations and issues arising, as described by Deputy Healy-Rae, are not as a result of national-park deer.

Deer management on private land is a matter for the landowner, he said.

And, he said, huge strides had been made in the granting of licenses for hunting to tackle these rising numbers.

“What you are talking about is deer populations outside of nature reserves and national parks,” Minister Noonan said.

“We have improved the licensing of deer-hunting. I have met with the Irish Deer Commission, and we are improving training for people going out to shoot deer, that they do so in the most humane way.”

In 2020, he said, 35,134 deer-hunting licences were granted during open hunting season, while 4,684 were granted under Section 42 of the Wildlife Act. These licenses are granted, during off-season, on a case-by-case basis, only when there is evidence that the animals are damaging farms or forestry.

“And according to the Irish Deer Commission, 8,000 deer were culled in a five-year period in Kerry,” the minister told Deputy Healy-Rae.

In the three years prior to 2020, the number of hunting licenses granted were 44,000, 41,000 and 32,000, the minister said.

He pointed out that numbers culled are significant, if you combine NPWS culls and deer-licensing kills. But he acknowledged there is an issue with rising populations and said they are making strides in tackling that.