SOUTH Gippsland Landcare Network (SGLN) has been amazed at the level of enthusiasm for community-driven deer control at Cape Liptrap.

Almost every landholder across the 9000ha catchment is participating in a new program. They will coordinate their own hunting efforts alongside the use of accredited shooters, where everyone will follow strict safety and animal welfare protocols, to target feral deer at strategic times of the year.

The program is an outcome of SGLN’s Bunurong Coast Community Onground Action on Pest Plants and Animals project. It was developed in response to landholder concerns about escalating deer numbers. Another SGLN project that installed field cameras on properties adjacent to the Cape Liptrap Coastal Park confirmed the existence of large numbers of deer in the area.

National feral deer support officer, Shannon Evenden, who spoke at an information session at Cheryl and Barry Batagol’s property at Cape Liptrap recently, described deer and their impacts on the environment and farming as “the next rabbit”.

The 40 landholders who attended the information session did not disagree. Many described the damage done to the vegetation in and around their properties as “devastating”, and expressed concern for the future of native animals that rely on understory plants for food and shelter.

Several farmers also spoke about the economic impacts on their businesses including competition for pasture and the threat of disease and parasites being spread by deer to cattle and sheep.

Shannon said that to achieve a noticeable reduction in deer numbers and impacts, more than 35 per cent of the population must be culled each year for fallow deer. To get an accurate picture of the numbers involved, she urged all landholders to record sightings (including kills) and damage caused by deer via the free FeralScan app. Information entered in FeralScan will also inform government agencies of the extent of the problem and support future control works.

Shannon stressed that FeralScan records cannot be accessed by the public, allaying concerns about illegal hunting which is an issue for many residents across South Gippsland. To this end, SGLN has prepared a pro forma agreement for landholders to set out the conditions under which a shooter may access their property for deer control. These include only entering the property at agreed times, holding a valid firearms licence and being registered with the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia.

A WhatsApp group has been set up to coordinate shooting pulses and to enable landholders to notify neighbours that shooters will be on their property. SGLN has spoken to Victoria Police who have asked that anyone who suspects that someone is hunting illegally to contact them immediately.

The Cape Liptrap Community Deer Control Group hopes to carry out its first two-week pulse in April to coincide with rutting (mating). Follow-up pulses will be carried out later in the year. Busy holiday periods like Easter, Christmas and January will be avoided.

Any landholder who has inadvertently been left off the contact list and who wants to be involved should contact Jenny O’Sullivan on 0419 153 377 or leapjos@gmail.com.

SGLN is also supporting the Corner Inlet Landcare Group to establish a similar group: contact Nick Stephens for information.

Landholders in other areas are encouraged to speak with members of their local Landcare Group and, if there is interest in community-driven deer control, to contact their SGLN Facilitator (Eastern Sector: Nick Stephens at nickstephens@sgln.net.au; Andrea Clifford at andrea@sgln.net.au).

SGLN’s Bunurong Coast Community Onground Action on Pest Plants and Animals project is funded by the state government through the Community Action Volunteer Grants.