The management of deer in native woodlands has become a central issue in recent years. This is primarily due to increasing deer populations, the expansion of forest area through afforestation, introductions of new deer species and the re-distribution/transportation of extant naturalized deer species. Native and broad-leaved woodlands are particularly vulnerable to deer damage through browsing, grazing pressure, fraying and bole scoring. Conservation and wood quality objectives can be seriously compromised.
Negative ecological impacts from excessive deer pressure on woodland structure and ground vegetation community composition has negative knock-on effects on all other assemblages including invertebrates, birds, mammals and soil fauna. Conversely, a sustainable deer presence has positive ecological impacts and recreational value, especially as revenue through game management can be appreciable to woodland owners.
The production of quality hardwoods, where applicable, can be undermined to such an extent that only firewood grade material is realized in the presence of excessive deer populations. This has severe implications for the sustainable management and revenue streams associated with native and broad-leaved woodlands. Actions outlined in A Strategy for Native Woodlands in Ireland 2016 – 2020 (Woodlands of Ireland, 2016) clearly highlight the need for enforceable measures to control introductions and the spread of non-native deer. It also highlights the urgent need for a coordinated national, regional and local approach to deer management, overseen by a national initiative such as the recently-established Irish Deer Management Forum.
Deer management includes a high degree of coordination, involving consultation with
stakeholders, the strategic management planning of deer control, mitigation measures at forest design stage and in subsequent woodland management. These are essential components of effective deer and woodland management.
The information note No. 7 – Deer NWS examines all these issues in detail and provides guidance on deer management including planning, deer counts, good woodland design, fencing, the use of deer tubes and population control/culling. Most or all these measures are required together to ensure that deer and woodlands co-exist in relative harmony to the mutual benefit of both.