I thank the Member for raising the issue, which is one that the Department is very aware of. As the Member identifies, it is an invasive species native to parts of Asia, and one wonders how it ended up in Northern Ireland. The species was introduced, I think, in the early 20th century and has since spread rapidly. It negatively impacts on woodland and is a cause of increased traffic collisions. The Department is taking a number of actions, including specific action at local level, surveillance activity and research when necessary. The Department has also developed an exclusion strategy and contingency plan for a range of non-native deer, including the muntjac.
The Member mentioned my Strangford constituency. The Mount Stewart muntjac action group was established in 2010 in response to increased sightings in the area. It comprises departmental officials, academics, estate landowners and environmental NGO interests. A muntjac deer action plan for the Mount Stewart National Trust site and adjacent properties was developed and is being implemented by National Trust and Forest Service staff along with five registered volunteer marksmen approved by the group's selection criteria.
I am sure that the Minister is not having sleepless nights about the issue, but it is serious in the sense that the species is causing severe damage to forestry and farmland in the rest of the United Kingdom. Has he any idea or can the Northern Ireland Environment Agency give us any indication of how many Reeves's muntjac there are in Northern Ireland?
I do not have a number. There are some estimates around identifying areas in which it is located, and the Member mentioned the Ards peninsula, where there is a concentration of them. I do not think that anybody knows exactly how many there are, but there have been 103 reported records of muntjac deer sightings, on the database of the Centre for Environmental Data and Recording. However, not all these records have been verified and, of course, there could be duplicate sightings contained within that. There is a significant enough issue. It has been identified as an issue and a problem by the Department, hence our work on the Mount Stewart group that I mentioned, and we will work very closely with all the stakeholders to do our very best to eradicate this very worrying, troubling and dangerous invasive species.