Sleigh bells ringing at Cabragh Wetlands

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Donegal's motorists warned over dangers of deer on the road

The majestic animals that are deer.

This weeks Cabragh Wetlands column

First of all, a big” go raibh mile maith agaibh” to all who purchased our Cabragh Wetlands calendars.


Next on the menu is our annual Christmas Hamper draw where a number of hampers and numerous spot prizes are up for raffle.It is an online raffle and you may purchase a ticket at https://rafall.com/151620/enter-raffle-to-win-cabragh-wetlands-raffle-hosted-by-mary-macmahon


The farmers’ market, hit very badly by Covid takes place on December 12. Cabragh Wetlands has a stand there selling various nature mementoes so you might pick up a few stockimg liners. Watch out too for Michael Walsh’s amazing crafted trekking sticks adorned with antler –a real collector’s item.


The quintessential Christmas mammal is the reindeer or in our case the Irish red deer. There once lived in Ireland in the interstadial grasslands the greatest deer of all, the Irish elk. These magnificent creatures, fated to wander with the prairie grassland as they oscillated north and south with climate change still elicit absolute amazement when we see their giant skeletons in the “Dead Zoo” beside Leinster House or indeed out at Dovea at the Big House of the former Trant estate. Eventually, as the post glacial grasslands became wetter, their weighty antlers caused them to topple into the grass fringed shallow lakes from which they were unable to extricate themselves but their bones remained well preserved in the shallow peat for aeons.


The reindeer became extinct in Ireland about 11,000 years ago.
But the great survival story of Irish mammals is that of the native Red Deer which we find in Killarney, Glenveagh and on Inishvicallaun. Of all the herds of Irish red deer, the Killarney herd is probably the truest to the original although all over Ireland, including Wicklow, the introduction of sika and fallow deer to great estates played havoc with genetics.


Many still remember the herd of fallow deer in the deerpark at Langley’s Archerstown estate beyond Thurles. Still the deer cowering in a 15th century thicket on the wall of Holycross Abbey is very definitely an Irish red deer.
In the 18th and 19th centuries red deer became almost extinct in much of central and western Europe from being relatively abundant and widespread in the middle ages. The population in Donegal became extinct in the 1860’s but one wild population survived in the Killarney region. Since then, red deer from Britain and Europe have been introduced to Irish deer parks on many occasions. The Donegal population was re-established in 1891 and they still retain their genetic similarity to Scottish red deer. The Kerry herd was supplemented by stags from abroad but the skulls of Kerry deer are different consistent with their long isolation.


Red deer and sika deer hybridise in captivity and in the wild and in Powerscourt this happened within fifteen years of their confinement together but hybridisation has not apparently occurred in Killarney even where the two wild populations share the same range. Patience is required for watching deer in the wild. They are extremely sensitive to scent and it is important to be aware of wind direction and to approach downwind. Move quietly & slowly , particularly if watching woodland deer and have clothes that blend in with the surroundings.


Deer spend their days alternating between periods of feeding and ruminating and resting in cover. They may be seen at any time of the day but the best times are at dawn or just before dusk. A browse line may be evident on the trees and with red deer this will be about two metres from the ground. They also often pull strips of bark from trees. You may also notice their trails in woodland in the soft mud.


No two male red deer grow identical sets of antlers and so individual stags may be recognizable. The Killarney herd are of high conservation value owing their survival to the designation of the grounds of the Herbert and Kenmare estates as a hunting reserve in the 19th century. As part of the current conservation strategy, subpopulations have been established on Innishvicillaune in the Blaskets, Doneraile Park and Connemara National Park. Hunting of red deer in Co. Kerry is absolutely prohibited.


Active conservation strategies, then, can make a real difference. Cabragh wetlands is embarking on such a programme for endangered bird species. Your contribution through ticket purchase etc is vital for the success of these programmes.
Stay safe - wash your hands. Slán go fóill.