The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) confirmed that 27 deer were shot by rangers on the 21-acre island, after the discovery of four dead sika. Around 20 remain. It has said balancing the needs of deer and ecology is challenging.
The ruins on Inisfallen of the monastery founded in the 6th century by St Finan the Leper are among the most important in the region. The island is where Brian Boru studied, and its annals, a chronicle of the south-west, composed in the 11th century, are in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Around a decade ago, a small number of Sika, a Japanese species introduced here in the 19th century, swam the short distance from Ross Castle to the island. Their numbers were not controlled. Bark on the island’s trees was stripped and almost every inch of ground is bare. The island’s ecology has been destroyed, according to local councillor John Joe Culloty, a member of the national park liaison committee.
Mr Culloty uncovered the dire situation last week after finding the dead animals. He wants all deer taken off the historic island and he says management of the park badly needs to be addressed.
“Every tree that can be bark-stripped is bark-stripped because the animals are starving, and the ground is as bare as it could possibly be,” he said. “To get the island back, it needs to be kept clear of deer.”
The numbers of red deer and sika are felt to be out of control in south Kerry, and the lack of manpower in Ireland’s first national park is being blamed for degeneration of the woods and ecology. Wildlife rangers, whose duties take them beyond the park to oversee other protected habitats and species, now number just four — there were previously eight. There is no regeneration in Killarney’s important oak and deciduous woodlands because of deer numbers. A number of car accidents have been attributed to deer straying onto the roads.
There are persistent calls for a widespread cull, and to allow farmers shoot deer found on farms, as well as in Killarney town centre. Their exact numbers are not known, but there are several hundred of both red and sika in the Killarney forests alone — well beyond what is sustainable. 97 deer were culled in March, the majority of which were red hinds.
Meanwhile, the Department of Heritage has said balancing deer and forestry is challenging, but it will carry out more culls.
It also said that the department commissioned a survey in the winter of 2016 on the distribution, population density, and population structure of red deer and sika deer in Killarney National Park.
“There is a significant challenge in attempting to balance the demands of agriculture, forestry, and conservation with the need to ensure that deer populations occupying the same land resources are managed at sustainable levels, and in a responsible and ethical manner,” it said. “Ultimately, however, where deer species are increasing in range and numbers, depending on the annual count and instances of damage caused by deer to habitats [especially woodland], culls need to be carried out to ensure that deer populations do not reach levels that would have negative ecological consequences.”