Gorse burning has been mooted as a possible solution to the deer problem facing farmers in Co. Wicklow, the ICSA’s Seamus Sherlock said.

The Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association’s Rural Development Chairman believes organisations must work together in order to find a solution.

Sherlock was speaking following the ICSA’s recent meetings with both Coillte and the National Parks and Wildlife Services (NPWS).

During these meetings it was reportedly outlined to Coillte and the NPWS the difficulties that some farmers in Co. Wicklow are facing due to the ‘ever-expanding, free-roaming herds of deer in the county’.

The situation has reached a tipping point and cannot be allowed to continue.

“Tackling the issue will involve a multi-faceted approach and will potentially involve a complete overhaul of how these lands are managed by Coillte and the NPWS.

“Farmers have told me it is not uncommon to see 70 or 80 deer in a field together. One farmer planted 15ha of rape last year and close to 5ac were eaten by deer. These farmers have seen deer running from their sheds where they are eating silage left out for cattle and sheep,” he said.

Tom Stephenson, who is a local landowner and member of the ICSA, said he can no longer afford to feed wild deer.

We’re trying to make a living; our hands are completely tied. It’s costing us money that we don’t have and causing no end of havoc on our farms. A solution must be found.

Farmers are trying to cope with unmanageable numbers of deer on their lands, breaking down fences, eating grass and other feed – as well as causing unprecedented levels of TB reactors in cattle, according to the ICSA.

Coillte and NPWS agree to back Wicklow Farmers

Both Coillte and the NPWS have agreed to support farmers affected by the deer problem in Co. Wicklow, according to Sherlock.

The ICSA held talks with the CEO of Coillte, Fergal Leamy, late last week and met with the NPWS yesterday.

“Coillte is very keen to work with us and, indeed, gave a commitment to the ICSA to find solutions to a problem that can no longer be ignored. The NPWS has also been very supportive of those facing problems.

“Both organisations have agreed to do everything in their power to find a solution to this problem,” Sherlock said.

Could gorse burning be the solution?

One possible solution that has been mentioned during these meetings is controlled gorse burning, he added.

“Deer are coming down from the mountains because they are hungry. In recent years, the mountains have been abandoned a little by sheep farmers.

Gorse and heather have grown wild in the meantime. The deer have not got enough to eat, so they are coming down onto farmers’ land.

“Managed gorse burning could be used to solve this problem. Sheep farmers could then graze the mountain and keep the gorse and heather from taking over.

“Then the deer wouldn’t be forced onto farmers’ land in order to graze,” he said.

There is a very short period for gorse burning at the moment and it is very weather dependent, so the backing of the NPWS and Coillte would be important, if this possible solution is to be acted upon in the future, he said.

The solution of erecting high perimeter fences is not seen as a viable option due to the cost and sheer scale of the operation, Sherlock added.