Irish muntjac – myth or menace?

Shooting Times & Country|May 27, 2020

Irish muntjac – myth or menace?
The tiny muntjac has an outsized environmental impact and sightings on the island of Ireland are causing alarm, explains Barry Stoffell
Barry Stoffell

The wild deer wandering here and there,” wrote William Blake in Auguries of Innocence, “doth free the human soul from care.” While undoubtedly true in many instances, this line does rather suggest that while he may have been a poet and painter par excellence, he didn’t make his living from trees or crops.

In fairness to Blake, back in the first decade of the 19th century, when the poem was penned, Britain had not yet seen the introduction of either the Japanese sika or the muntjac. Later in the century both arrived, thrived, and are now firmly established. But just a short hop across the Irish Sea, the situation is somewhat different – while sika were introduced in 1860 by the seventh Lord Powerscourt to his estate in County Wicklow, the muntjac remained foreign to these shores. Until recently, that is. Over the past decade there have been a number of confirmed sightings of this diminutive deer, adding to growing concern that a feral population is not only present on the island of Ireland, but is now breeding.

A successful pest

While muntjac may have first set foot on British soil as early as 1838, they were not introduced in significant numbers until the 1890s, by the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Park. A few years later, a number were released into the surrounding woodland and the rest, as they say, is history. A little over a century later, they are now widespread throughout much of England, with a more limited presence in Wales. There are increasing reports of muntjac sightings in Scotland – an issue of no little concern to Scottish Natural Heritage – and it would appear that no country on mainland Britain can claim to be muntjac-free.

As many readers will be painfully aware, this small deer can be big trouble. As seasonal breeders, their mating activity is not confined to an annual rut and most muntjac does – fertile from just eight months old – spend the vast majority of their lives pregnant, adding to their family at regular seven-monthly intervals. Populations thus have the potential to increase at an alarming rate if unchecked and although small in stature, in significant densities they are capable of doing quite extraordinary damage.

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May 27, 2020