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This Article was in the Irish Independent following it’s publication in the Wicklow People earlier this week. Please see the article and link for actual article on website below.
Fear of the deer
Wicklow Farmers are feeling the pressure caused by Bovine TB which is an ever increasing threat as the number of infected deer roaming the county continues to rise.
Farmers are complaining that deer numbers are getting out of control in Wicklow with little sign of anything being done to curb the problem.
Deer populations are increasingly moving down from the top of the hills and upland areas, down into forests and farm land.
While farmers count the cost of damaged crops, broken fences and lost pasture, they are also having to cope with a noticeable rise in bovine TB cases, which many within the farming community blame on deer.
Independent councillor and current Cathaoirleach of Wicklow County Council, Chris Fox, says the problem is becoming an epidemic.
A farmer himself, Cllr Fox says it isn’t unusual to be confronted by eight to ten deer when he is visiting fields.
‘Huge progress has been made in the rest of the country regarding TB but in Wicklow things continue to get worse. In this county we have five times the number of TB cases in cattle than the rest of the national average.
‘The Department have identified badgers as a problem but haven’t properly looked at deer. The common denominator between the number of cases of TB in cattle in Wicklow is the number of deer in the county. Currently Wicklow has about 50 per cent of the national deer population even though no one seems to be able to give an accurate account of just how many deer there are in the county.’
100 deer were shot in Wicklow between November and March and their carcasses were sent for tests to see if there were any notable TB trends.
A spokesperson for the Department explained how the culling and testing was carried out.
‘Over the course of the past few months the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine undertook an exercise involving the culling and examination of a representative sample of deer from the Callary area of Co. Wicklow. This revealed that some 4.8 per cent of deer had visible lesions and 15.5 per cent cultured positive overall. A previous survey in this region in 2008 found a lower visible lesion rate but the culturing methodology used was different.’
As part of the exercise badgers were also looked at.
‘The exercise also involved the culling and examination of badgers from the same area. 26 per cent of the badgers were cultured positive for TB. Strain typing to show linkages between the TB in deer, badgers and cattle in the area has not been completed yet,’ the spokesperson added.
‘The findings in Wicklow indicate that, as expected, there are pockets of deer where infection is present. The high level of TB infection in badgers is also of concern and may well be the source of TB for both cattle and deer. There is an active badger control programme in operation in Wicklow and this has led to a reduction in the incidence of TB in cattle in recent years.
‘Under the Wildlife Acts, responsibility for wild deer rests with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. However, a non-statutory Irish Deer Management forum has recently been established with an independent chairman and includes representation from stakeholder groups, as well as the Departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It is intended that results of the exercise conducted in the Callary will initially be considered by the forum.’
Cllr Fox however, feels it will be hard to find a resolution agreeable to all.
‘I have spoken to farmers who have had their whole herds wiped put. They have lost their life’s work and their livelihoods.
‘Once a cow has been diagnosed with TB it has to be removed from the herd and slaughtered. For six months that farmer can’t buy or sell. So if you have a herd of 100 and you lose 60 you have to try and survive on that 40 for six months or longer. It just isn’t sustainable.
‘I know other farmers who have lost everything, which is a harrowing situation for any farmer to go through.’
He is also a member of the recently formed National Deer Forum and has some theories of his own over why Wicklow’s deer population has increased so much.
‘As a child I never saw deer in fields or anywhere like that. You only ever saw them in the uplands. Now I am regularly greeted by up to ten deer in a field. I just think very little is being done to manage them. Some people would argue that since the uplands became a National Park, no proper vegetation management plan has been in place so the deer have to come down from the uplands to look for food.
‘With the National Deer Forum we are looking at the situation from a number of different perspectives. Deer are also having a detrimental impact on newly planted trees. The forestry industry have real genuine concerns as well. There have also been an increasing number of road traffic collisions involving deer recently as well.’
Wicklow Chair of the ICMSA Shane O’Loughlin from Aughrim also voiced his concerns about the epidemic.
‘The tests after that controlled cull in North Wicklow show that 16 per cent of Wicklow deer have TB. It is estimated that there are 16,000 deer in the country and this is a very conservative figure in my opinion. This is a huge concern to farmers.’