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Number of deer struck by trains rises as debate over cull gathers pace

Iarnród Éireann said the incidents led to delays for passengers as trains are forced to stop following strikes

Stock picture© Getty Images

Sunday World

The number of deer being struck by trains on the country's rail network rose to 58 last year, new figures have revealed.

This is more than double the number of strikes (24) which occurred in 2018, the figures obtained by RTE show.

There were 36 such incidents in 2019; 28 in 2020 and 42 in 2021, when there were fewer train journeys due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Dublin-Wexford line, Mallow-Killarney and Ennis-Athenry railways saw some of the worst incidents which all led to deer fatalities, although there was little damage to trains.

However, a spokesperson for Iarnród Éireann said the incidents led to delays for passengers as trains are forced to stop following strikes.

The spokesperson told RTE they are installing deer-proof fencing where possible and feasible, although it is not 100 per cent effective.

Mayo County Council’s road safety section estimates there are between 400 and 500 road collisions involving deer in Ireland every year.

These incidents occur in counties where there are large deer populations, and while material damage has been caused to vehicles, there have been no injuries to passengers or drivers.

However, fatal road collisions involving deer has been raised during inquests in Co Kerry on a number of occasions, after Road Safety Authority records show there were ten casualties between 2017 and 2021.

Concerns regarding deer entering properties, grazing on crops and grass and possibly spreading TB to cattle have been raised by farmers.

Shane O'Loughlin, a dairy farmer in Aughrim, Co Wicklow told how every night as he is milking, sika deer emerge from woods adjacent to his fields and graze his grass.

"While I'm working, the deer are feasting on my grass. We need the grass for our cows, we do everything we can to grow it well, but the cows are not getting to eat some of it,” he told RTE.

"There are estimates from 60,000 to 150,000 and there's huge variety there in that estimate. No one really knows, but we do know there are a lot of deer."

Shane said that while it is possible to fence the deer out, but it is not very practical.

"It’s very expensive to undertake, and difficult to put a 6ft fence around the whole perimeter of a farm".

A 2015 study found that 16 per cent of deer culled tested positive for TB, while a more recent TCD study showed a correlation between higher deer populations and incidence of the disease in cattle.

Another study, yet to be published by the Department of Agriculture but seen by RTÉ News, involved 1,500 deer that were shot over three years and assessed for TB by deer hunters trained to recognise the signs.

Signs were seen in 58 animals, samples of which were sent for lab testing.

Nine came back positive for TB, which is 16.6% of samples lab tested, or 0.6% of all the animals considered in the study.

Addressing the issue recently, Minister for the Environment Eamon Ryan said deer were a problem when it comes to restoring biodiversity across the country and agreed that a cull was needed.

But the Irish Deer Commission, a voluntary organisation that argues for sustainable deer management, state that the data suggests there while, there are issues in certain areas "in the majority of the country it appears deer are adequately managed at sustainable levels".

The Deer Management Strategy Group, established late last year by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue conducted a public submissions process with over 1,500 submissions received.

Those will now feed into the group’s work, which will also involve meeting with interested parties from next month.

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