Exclosures best for saplings

SOME people out deer watching of late have contacted us in relation to what they have described as “no-go areas” where quite high fencing barred their way into sections of woodland.

The aim of the fencing, in Killarney and Wicklow National Parks, is to keep deer out of certain areas in order to allow young trees to grow and enable the woodlands to regenerate. Known as “exclosures”, the fencing has been in some areas for more than 40 years.

The exclosures have, in recent years, been introduced to other areas of Killarney National Park, especially around Moll’s Gap and Derrycunnihy, on the mountain road to Kenmare, and in the lyrically-named townlands of Ullauns, Poulgower and Gortroe.

The National Park and Wildlife Service (NPWS) says it’s necessary to exclude animals such as deer, wild goats and sheep from sections of the old woodlands, especially where rhododendron infestation has been cleared. Corridors have been created within the areas to allow the passage of deer from the mountains to the lowlands.

Like many other things in Irish life these days, we are also being told what to do by Brussels in this regard. The EU Habitats directive imposes an obligation to protect our prime native woodlands, including oak, yew, birch, alder, wet and bogland forests. Counties with the greatest density of such woodlands are Waterford, Offaly and Wicklow, while those with the lowest density are Dublin, Carlow and Louth.

Woodland surveys are ongoing. The NPWS and Trinity College have also been working together to examine the impact of grazing on vegetation and tree-growth in the Killarney and Wicklow national parks.

The exclosures provide a unique record of change in the woodlands and results to date show that native tree species can regenerate where grazing is not allowed.

Some conservation groups are opposed to exclosures, arguing that deer and woodlands have co-existed for thousands of years and that the woodlands provide deer with winter and calving-time cover. Additional deer culling has been proposed as an alternative means of obtaining sustainable grazing levels.

But, the NPWS is adamant that the exclosures system is the most effective way of doing things and gives saplings the best chance to grow, as well as being environmentally-friendly. Around 150 hectares have been fenced in Killarney with the approval of the Forest Service, which says the local oakwoods could disappear in less than a century if such action is not taken.

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