As one of Italy’s most fashionable ski resorts, Cortina d’Ampezzo is accustomed to being swamped with Maseratis, Porsches and the fur-clad uber-rich.

But in the alpine meadows and forests that surround the picturesque town in the Dolomites, there is now an invasion of a rather different sort.

The number of red deer has exploded in recent years and farmers are complaining that their cattle are having to compete for food with the wild animals.

Herders say there are now so many deer that their livelihoods are being endangered.

“All the farmers around here have the same problem,” said Ranieri Caldara, who raises cattle in the village of Mortisa, outside Cortina d’Ampezzo. “Deer numbers are increasing all the time. In one night, they can strip a meadow.”

“If things go on like this, our farms will have to close down,” said Stefano Ghedina, another farmer in the area.

“The deer defecate where the cattle graze, bringing problems linked to parasites and infections which can harm the cattle,” he told the Corriere delle Alpi newspaper.

He says that nearly every evening a herd of about 50 deer descends on his property, forcing him to buy in hay to feed his cows.

The red deer population has increased dramatically because of the decline of traditional agriculture and the abandonment of mountain farms.

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After the farmers’ protests, authorities in the region are starting to acknowledge that numbers are out of controlCredit:
GETTY

Alpine pastures where sheep and cattle once grazed have been taken over by woodland.

“It’s ideal habitat for deer,” said Franco De Bon, an official with responsibility for hunting in the province of Belluno, which includes Cortina d’Ampezzo.

“A hundred years ago, meadows were much more extensive and there were many more sheep and cattle being raised. Now the forest has returned.”

Farmers claim that the plentiful deer population is attracting wolves, with the number of wolf attacks on domestic animals beginning to rise.

From being on the brink of the extinction in Italy in the early 1970s, the wolf has colonised large parts of the Alps and Apennines, and there are now believed to be around 1,500 – 2,000 in Italy.

In some parts of the country, including Tuscany, wolves are regularly shot and suspended from road signs or – in one recent case – a bus shelter, as a grisly protest by farmers against attacks on livestock.

Cortina d’Ampezzo is part of the Veneto region, where there are now estimated to be around 14,000 red deer.

In some areas, numbers have nearly doubled in five years.

Across the Dolomites and the Alps as a whole, there are thought to be as many as 80,000 – not bad for a species that a century ago was all but wiped out in the mountains.

The debate over how to manage them parallels the situation in Britain, where there are now more deer than at any time since the last Ice Age. In Scotland, the number of red deer has doubled in the past 50 years.

Italy’s alpine farmers say the situation is particularly acute this year because the winter was so severe.

Snowfalls were so heavy that snow lingers even now on the high passes – in fact there was fresh snow in the Dolomites and Alps, and even in the mountains of Sardinia, just this week, thanks to a cold front that swept down from Greenland.

Cortina d'Ampezzo, ItalyCredit:
GETTY

The snow has pushed the deer down into lower pastures occupied by herds of cattle.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope for the landowners.

After the farmers’ protests, authorities in the region are starting to acknowledge that numbers are out of control.

“The number of red deer needs to be reduced, as has been done with the population of wild boar,” said Giuseppe Pan, an official from the Veneto region.

“They are the biggest wild herbivore in the Alps. They compete with cattle for grazing and they are attracting wolves from the east.”

Slovenia is not far away and has a thriving population of wolves.

With an adult red deer capable of consuming 25kg of grass a day, the threat to mountain cattle farmers is real.

“We’re going to come up with a plan which will bring deer numbers to a level where they are compatible with the environment,” said Mr De Bon.

In most years, the authorities in the province around Cortina d’Ampezzo give permission for the elimination of around 1,000 deer, with the cull taking place in autumn.

This year, that number will probably be increased to 1,200.

The cull is carried out by local hunters who have to buy permits from the state.

“Wild animals can be a problem in a place like this, but they can also be a valuable resource,” said Mr De Bon.

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