Increased TB testing on culled deer has been called for in Co. Wicklow – to ascertain the true extent of the problem – by the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA).

The organisation’s rural development chairman Seamus Sherlock made the call following an ICSA meeting with officials from Coillte and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) which took place in Wicklow last week on Thurday, March 8.

Commenting on the matter, Sherlock said: “Our Wicklow members are the ones who have to cope with the ramifications of the huge numbers of deer encroaching onto their farms.

As well as having the deer decimate their grazing pastures and feed supplies, the more serious issue remains the high levels of TB reactor cattle in those areas populated by deer.

“Farmers are at their wits’ end, as nobody is willing to take responsibility for the problem.

“At the very least we need a process whereby basic post-mortem testing is carried out, so levels of TB in the deer population can be tracked and monitored,” Sherlock said.

‘Tourism over farming’

ICSA Wicklow chairman Tom Stephenson also commented on the issue, adding: “It would appear the priority is to boost tourism in the area at the expense of family farms. ICSA is all in favour of tourism and rural regeneration; but not at any expense. The livelihoods of local farmers must be protected.

“Farmers in this area have been completely abandoned. There is what can only be described as a plague upon us and we have no way of ridding ourselves of this scourge.

“We can restock time and time again after a lock-up; but, the same thing just happens again. It’s a heart-breaking way of operating which just can’t continue.”

The Department of Agriculture has committed to undertake a three-year project to quantify the damage caused to farmland by wild deer and to ascertain an appropriate annual cull level.

This does not go far enough, according to Stephenson, who said: “There is no funding provided for professional shooters. We cannot possibly rely on leisure shooters to have a meaningful impact.

“The situation has gone beyond the tipping point. I am calling on the Department of Agriculture to introduce a proper, fully-incentivised culling programme – coupled with systematic TB testing on carcasses as a matter of urgency.”