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Hutt Valley residents fed up with deer invaders

Residents in Wellington's Hutt Valley say not enough is being done to tackle deer, which are popping up in backyards and destroying native bush.

A stag in a suburban property in Naenae, Lower Hutt, in May 2020. Source: Supplied / Ali Dennis

Wainuiomata resident Morgan Cox says deer have been a problem for the three years he’s lived in his house on the edge of the East Harbour Regional Park.

Cox says the animals have been getting bolder in recent years. He was surprised to spot a stag munching on a hedge in his driveway in broad daylight in April.

“Deer are pretty common through here, we have them crashing through the front yard pretty regularly.

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The animals have been turning up in people’s backyards. Source: 1 NEWS

“There's fresh sign here pretty much every month, they come for the mahoe and karamu and the native tasty plants... it’s the experience most people are having in the Hutt… all people living in Eastbourne and Lower Hutt on the bush edge will get deer coming into their backyards.”

Over the hill in Māhina Bay, Jill Bagnall and her husband have put up electric fences to ward the deer off.

“I noticed deer marks on a track up [the hill] just recently. I think it's going to be a perpetual problem.”

In York Bay, Andrew Alcorn says he gets deer on his front lawn about once a month on average, despite being just a few hundred metres from the main road.

Deer spotted on Andrew Alcorn’s land in York Bay. Source: Supplied / Andrew Alcorn

“It's suburbia but we've got deer right there in suburbia… it's a major problem. Over the time I've been here, which is the past 15 years, the numbers have been creeping up.”

The residents 1 NEWS spoke to say while the deer in their gardens are a nuisance, they’re much more concerned about the damage deer are doing in the East Harbour Regional Park.

York Bay resident and environmentalist Sally Bain says while the bush at the base of the park is still lush, the native plants in the hills have been “decimated”.

“The deer are taking out the undergrowth, what regeneration was happening has ground to a halt. The deer population seems to have exploded in the last seven years or so. The forest should have re-growth, you shouldn't be able to see more than 10 metres. Here, we can see 50 metres, easy," Bain says.

Meanwhile, Cox says he's “not so concerned if a deer comes through and chomps on my fruit tree”.

“What concerns me is native bush can't handle high deer numbers, with high deer numbers the native bush will go into freefall collapse.”

The Greater Wellington Regional Council’s Pest Animals team leader Glen Falconer says it can’t say whether or not deer numbers have increased as the population isn’t tracked.

“It’s difficult to state categorically that there are more deer in the region than there were last year as we don’t collect or monitor the population," Falconer says.

"But, we have had sightings from tracks in our regional parks and we know that deer have been attracted to gardens in Eastbourne. If you add to that Hutt City’s sightings then it seems pretty clear that deer numbers are pretty healthy.

"We’re very happy to work with Hutt City [Council] to get them under control.”

The council says it employs contract deer-cullers, and there are ballots for recreational hunting in the East Harbour Regional Park.

But, hunting deer can be hard to manage because of the public tracks, the council says.

Forest and Bird’s Wellington regional manager Amelia Geary says the deer issues in Wellington are “just the tip of the iceberg”.

“Nowadays they are present in over 80 per cent of public conservation land across the country and largely unmanaged, what we're seeing here is deer out of control," Geary says.

“When people say they had deer chewing on their hedges last weekend, that suggests there's not much food for them in the bush which means they are grazing out the palatable species in the forest to the point where there's not much left for them to eat.

"What that means for New Zealand is they are eating forests ability to sequester carbon and that has massive implications for climate change.”

Geary says while some councils like Greater Wellington have a plan to manage deer, others don’t.

“[Deer] are flourishing and breeding and eating our carbon sinks so now what we need is a co-ordinated approach to manage deer nationwide.”

The Department of Conservation’s biodiversity threats advisor Dave Carlton says such a plan is being worked on and will be finalised in about a year's time.

“At the moment we’ve got a project that’s looking at exactly that – how do we mitigate the negative effects of deer but at the same time acknowledging that for certain sections of the community they do have a recreational, cultural and commercial value?

“The plan would work by doing it at a regional level, working with the regional councils, the iwi there and all of the other stakeholders in the community to design something that's going to work best for their community.”