Stakeholders across the country will by now be aware that the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Charlie McConalogue T.D and Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien TD have recently jointly launched a public consultation on deer management in Ireland. The purpose of the consultation, which is coordinated by the Deer Management Strategy Group, is to gather views on key issues relating to deer management in Ireland, the impact of increased deer numbers on a variety of issues such as forestry, biodiversity, road safety, animal health and welfare and the welfare of the deer themselves.
The Deer Management Strategy Group is chaired by dairy farmer Teddy Cashman and was convened in 2022 to continue the work of the Irish Deer Management Forum (IDMF). Other members of the Group include officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the National Parks and Wildlife Service at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Notably, the various deer organisations which in the past have always led the way in attempting to deal with issues surrounding wild deer are not represented on the Group, despite having been active on the IDMF.
The Deer Management Strategy Group are now requesting the views of all stakeholders with the aim of creating a sustainable and effective deer management strategy. The consultation takes the form of an online survey under different headings, including Impacts, Solutions, Constraints, and Barriers. Further information including a link to the survey questionnaire can be found HERE .
Many stakeholders are concerned at the nature and general direction suggested by the format of the online survey. Specifically, the online survey has all the hallmarks of a survey designed to arrive at a predetermined outcome. Many of the questions are leading in their nature and some are based on questionable assumptions. With nine loaded questions, multiple influencing factors and up to five responses available for each question, the opportunity for manipulation of responses is significant. Some of the questions could conceivably lead to unintended consequences, such as that suggesting re-classification of sika and fallow as invasive species. Re-classification could conceivably lead to removal of any protection for sika and fallow deer under the EC Regulation on the Prevention and Management of the Introduction and Spread of Invasive Alien Species [1143/2014]. Another question raises the issue of increased access to education and training for hunters when in fact, the responsible authorities have had a limited role in providing any education or training. Several other questions offer room for an engineered use of responses. Although there is a “Please State Other” box after each question it is difficult to see how “Other” responses can be factored into what is essentially a quantitative rather that a qualitative survey.
Some of the wording of the questionnaire has been described by a specialist research professional as “clumsy and unclear” and overall, it assumes a level of knowledge which uninformed respondents may not possess, and has a potential for bias.
Nonetheless, the survey is now in place and all stakeholders are encouraged to participate on or before the deadline of Friday 10th February 2023.
It is suggested that the different deer organisations whose members are likely to be affected by the outcome of the survey should provide information and leadership in relation to an optimum positive outcome for deer and deer enthusiasts including deer hunters. The outcome of the survey is likely to influence virtually all aspects of deer management, deer control and recreational deer hunting for some time into the future – including all aspects of deer welfare. The matter is too important to be left for “someone else” to deal with so all stakeholders (individuals and groups) are urged to take a pro-active approach and ensure their views are heard, recorded, and acknowledged.