Too many red deer in Killarney

Numbers of red deer in the two main herds in the lowland areas of Killarney National Park are now believed to be higher than ever, writes Donal Hickey

Too many red deer in Killarney

X-Taoiseach Charlie Haughey used to boast that native red deer which had been relocated from Killarney National Park, Co Cork, to his Blasket island haven, Innisvickillane, were doing better than deer remaining in the park.

It’s more than 40 years since a stag and two hinds were moved to Innisvickillane, later joined by other stags to strengthen bloodlines. At one stage, the island herd numbered around 100 and a cull had to be carried out. Haughey cited his personal experience of the animals, in which he took obvious pride, as proof that deer could be successfully relocated.

Subsequently, other red deer were sent to Doneraile Park, in north Cork, and Connemara. More recently, there were suggestions of sending some to the Phoenix Park, in Dublin, but that has not happened. Relocation can help preserve the genetic integrity of red deer and allow for restocking in the event of cross-breeding or deaths from disease.

All this has to be seen in the context of a growing deer population, both in numbers and range, in Killarney. According to current estimates, there are over 700 red deer, as well as a smaller sika deer population in the national park, perhaps 1,000 deer in total.

Annual culls take place, but nature lovers believe relocation should be a priority.

The issue was recently raised by Senator Paul Coghlan, of Killarney, who said any future culls should be largely confined to the imported sika, with culls of red deer to focus on old and infirm animals. If red deer numbers grew excessively, relocation to other national parks, such as Glenveagh, Co Donegal; Ballycroy, Co Mayo, and Connemara should be considered, he said.

However, the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) says there are no immediate plans for relocation. The NPWS accepts there has been a “substantial increase’’ in the Killarney herd and a culling operation has taken place this year, involving mostly female reds.

Numbers of red deer in the two main herds in the lowland areas of Killarney National Park are now believed to be higher than ever and there is also an upland herd.

Red deer are said to be in the area for at least 6,000 years, while the Japanese sika were introduced in the 19th century. Both species are recognised as being essential elements of nature locally. The trick is to find a balance of nature in an area which has some of the last remaining ancient oak and yew woods in Ireland.

Deer can damage woodlands by stripping the bark of mature trees and eating young trees. In some sections of the national park, exclosures a fencing system to keep deer out having been erected to allow trees grow.

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