Deer night-vision cameras in Welsh forests as culling increases
The number of wild deer being culled in Wales has doubled in the past five years, according to officials.
It follows an explosion in deer populations, increasing by an estimated 25% a year in some parts of Wales.
The Forestry Commission in Wales (FCW) says about 1,000 have been shot over this winter.
The various breeds of deer have now become such a problem in Welsh woodlands that night-vision cameras will be used to monitor them.
The FCW said the new cameras would provide vital information about the movement of deer in forestry, where the animals can damage vegetation and trees.
David Jam, the FCW's wildlife management officer, said: "We base our culling on woodland impacts, so if we are getting high impacts in an area for a number of years and we are seeing a pattern there, then we need to increase the level of culling.
"When the woodland regenerates to a level where it can sustain a good population of deer then you can ease that culling pressure off.
"There is a balance - we don't just cull and cull and cull.
"We are constantly monitoring impacts of deer on vegetation and on the crop trees and on the natural regeneration of trees."
Unofficially, FCW rangers say there may be between 3,000 and 5,000 wild fallow, red, roe and other breeds of deer living in woodlands and forests across Wales.
It means the animals can have an impact even in urban areas, with places such as Margam Forest stretching from Port Talbot's coast over towards the top end of the Rhondda valleys, and as far north as the Brecon Beacons.
The forest is what many regard as the largest urban forest in western Europe, with an estimated 2m people living nearby.
It also means that there is an increase in deer being seen, as well as grazing farmland, and that has led to fears of an increase in illegal hunting.
Meurig Rees, from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, explained that while the deer is not a protected species, there are strict rules about culling them.
"There are shooting seasons [when] you can either shoot the male or female, providing you have a firearms certificate and deer is recognised on your certificate.
"You [have to] either own shooting rights, or you have the shooting rights or you have the permission of the land owner, then you can go and cull deer."
In Bala, butcher Haydn Edwards regularly benefits from the legal deer culls, but has also heard about the increase in the illegal trade.
"We generally have between 80 and 90 deer in a year through the Forestry Commission on the cull," he said.
'Much denser meat'
"I have heard through the wardens that at Coed y Brenin that there is a lot more poaching this year."
But he is hardly surprised by the increase: in his shop, venison has become a big hit.
"It's definitely a different tasting red meat to beef and lamb," he said.
"It's got a low cholesterol level, it's a much denser meat with not so much fat in it."
So it is hoped that new Reconyx infra-red cameras being unveiled for the first time on Monday will not only monitor the deer in Wales, but will also deter poachers.
Hidden in trees, and triggered by movements, the cameras will mount round the clock surveillance to gather evidence of damage caused by deer and wild boar - and of poaching.
The new cameras will be placed near Glasfynydd Forest at Usk, Coed y Brenin near Dolgellau, Radnor Forest, as well as the lower Wye Valley.