Concerns have been raised that the population of a Chinese deer which causes enormous environmental damage may have secretly grown out of control across Northern Ireland.
A Stormont Department of Agriculture report in 2012 said that the first release of the Chinese or Reeves’ muntjac deer in Britain was in Bedfordshire in 1901, but that their “invasive distribution now covers most of the south and east of England and extends into Wales and Scotland”. Muntjac, whose call sounds like ‘barking’, cause severe ecological and economic damage, having major impacts on woodland herb layer composition and tree regeneration, the report said.
South Down DUP MLA Jim Wells said fresh research on NI sightings from Prof Jaimie Dick at Queen’s University Belfast has prompted him to speak out.
“Two years ago I urged the Department of Agriculture to take urgent action to eradicate Reeves Muntjac from Northern Ireland,” he said.
“This highly invasive species of deer has already caused millions of pounds of damaged to crops and forestry and numerous car accidents in the rest of the UK. I warned the department to take urgent action to eradicate the species from Northern Ireland before this becomes impossible.
“QUB have now found 267 separate sightings in NI in Counties Down and Armagh and 20 were recently released in Donegal when the Irish Government made it illegal to keep Muntjac in captivity.”
The Department of Agriculture said it was aware of the potential problems caused by Muntjac.
“Funding was provided for a previous survey, and we are currently working with a number of partners to consider aspects of Muntjac deer management,” a spokesman said.
The tiny, solitary Reeves’ Muntjac is nocturnal and is only 40-65cm or 15-25 inches high at the shoulder.