|Signs like these warn drivers there are deer about|
A recent report by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) estimates that around £10.5m of damage is caused by deer-related road accidents each year. Inside Out assesses the consequences in the South West.
DEFRA estimate that the UK's deer population will double in the next 10 years.
This will add to the problem of deer-crossing accidents which leave thousands of deer dead and many motorists injured.
There were several thousand deer-related road traffic accidents in the South West in 2003, and four people lost their lives as a result.
A growing problem
The Deer Collisions Project estimates that there are between 2,500 and 3,500 accidents in the region every year, injuring at least 20 people.
But it's not just motorists who get hurt.
A recent survey by the Highways Agency estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 deer are killed annually in traffic collisions in the UK.
|Sharon Hoblyn lost her husband in a road accident|
In fact, deer-related traffic accidents are one of the main causes of mortality among populations of wild deer.
The animal welfare issue is also important.
A high proportion of deer hit by cars are not killed outright - they are just left at the roadside to die slowly and in pain.
And that's not to mention the potential hazard to motorists, whose cars can be seriously damaged by a collision with deer crossing roads.
The RAC estimates that £11m worth of damage was caused to cars by deer crossing roads in 2003.
Sometimes, a collision can even be fatal, as Sharon Hoblyn knows only too well - her husband was killed as a result of a deer crossing in front of his motorbike.
"He had just gone onto the A38 when a deer jumped out over the hedge. He clipped the deer trying to avoid it and went onto the hard shoulder.
"A lorry came along and must've clipped the deer as well - it took the same route across the lanes and smacked into the back of my husband.
"It took him 100 yards up the road - he was killed instantly," she recalls.
Such accidents are a horrific consequence of runaway deer.
Studying the problem
That's why Doctor Jochen Langbein, a leading expert in the field, is heading up a research unit aiming to reduce the danger of deer on our roads
He says, "Perhaps most surprising to people is that we have more accidents around the edge of big towns than in rural areas.
|Dr Jochen Langbein is an expert on wild deer crossings|
"Down here in the South West our biggest area of accidents is around Exeter and Plymouth.
"We have fewer accidents in the more remote areas, such as Dartmoor, simply because the traffic flow isn't so high," he explains.
What are the options?
As the Deer Collisions Project Leader, Dr Langbein is carrying out extensive research into patterns of deer crossing incidents.
By installing cameras at known crossing points he hopes to gain a better understanding of the problem.
"We're trying to film all the deer crossings and look at low-cost measures like reflectors, which reflect car headlights onto the side of the road to startle deer for a brief moment while the traffic's coming."
Rumble strips are another method the team will experiment with.
It is hoped that the noise of a car passing over the strips will scare deer away from the road.
"We have lots of deer here and control over their numbers has to be part of any approach to trying to reduce accidents," explains Dr Langbein.
Fortunately Dr Langbein isn't the only one working towards reducing the number of accidents.
|Deer often die a slow death at the side of the road|
Dorset Police have put together a Deer Dispatch Unit, with 50 trained volunteers who can respond quickly and be at the roadside to assist motorists and injured deer after a collision.
Their job can be harrowing - they sometimes have to kill the injured deer humanely rather than leaving them to die a slow death.
The Forestry Commission's Mark Warren is among the team on call for this type of incident.
He says, "A police officer will attend initially to ascertain whether the deer is dead or not.
Most deer crossing accidents occur between October and December.
Highest-risk periods are from sunset to midnight and at sunrise.
Motorists should dim their headlights when a deer is noted - it may be startled and freeze in the road.
Don't swerve - if a collision seems inevitable, hit the deer and maintain control of the vehicle.
Try to come to a stop as far in front of the deer as possible so it can leave the roadside without panic.
Slow down for wildlife, take note of warning signs, and report all collisions to the police.
Source: The Deer Collisions Project
"If the deer is still alive then a dispatcher will be called to carry out a humane despatch of the deer.
"We're not in a position to take them to animal hospitals because of the stress caused to the deer."
PC John Snellin continues, "Deer do not repair easily - it might be sitting there looking stunned but generally they have huge internal injuries.
"They will ultimately crawl away and die a long, slow death curled up in a ditch, so it really is the best thing all round for the deer."
So whatever happens, deer crossing incidents are so often dangerous and potentially even fatal for all those involved.
And as Sharon Hoblyn knows, they can have devastating consequences.
"All it takes is one deer to come across and that's it.
"I wouldn't want anybody to go through what we've been through."