Deer: 50% cull 'necessary to protect countryside'

Stag Deer numbers in some areas appear stable only because thousands are being pushed into surrounding countryside

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Around half of the UK's growing deer population needs to be shot each year to stop devastation of woodlands and birdlife, a group of scientists says.

A study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management says this would keep numbers stable.

The deer population is currently estimated at around 1.5 million.

The researchers from the University of East Anglia suggest harvesting the animals for meat to make a cull ethically and economically acceptable.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) commented that any cull must be carried out in a humane and controlled way and be supported by "strong science".

There are now more deer in the UK than at any time since the last Ice Age.

Start Quote

What we are advocating isn't removing deer from the countryside - what we are advocating is trying to get on top of the deer population explosion”

End Quote Dr Paul Dolman University of East Anglia

In the absence of natural predators deer populations are continuing to expand, threatening biodiversity and causing road traffic accidents and crop damage, say researchers.

Britain has a total of six deer species, four of which were introduced since Norman times. The most recent newcomer is the Chinese water deer, which became established in the wild in the 1920s.

Dr Paul Dolman, ecologist at the University of East Anglia and lead author, said: "We know deer are eating out the... vegetation of important woodlands, including ancient woodlands.

"Deer are implicated as the major cause of unfavourable conditions in terms of woodland structure and regeneration.

"There is evidence that deer reduce the number of woodland birds - especially some of our much loved migrant birds species like Blackcap and Nightingale, and resident species like Willow Tit. We have a problem."

Failing strategy

Dr Dolman led a census of roe and muntjac deer populations across 234 sq km (90 sq miles) of woods and heathland in Breckland, East Anglia.

The researchers drove more than 1,140 miles at night using thermal imaging cameras to spot deer and provide an accurate estimate of their true numbers.

The results indicate that existing management strategies are failing. Although deer numbers appeared stable in the area, this was only because thousands of the animals were being pushed out into the surrounding countryside each year.

The new research suggested that only by killing 50% to 60% of deer can their numbers be kept under reasonable control.

Such a cull would be on a far greater scale than the 20% to 30% rates recommended previously.

With total deer numbers conservatively estimated at about 1.5 million, it could result in more than 750,000 animals being shot every year.

In a statement, the RSPCA said it was "opposed in principle to the killing or taking of all wild animals unless there is strong science to support it, or evidence that alternatives are not appropriate.

"Even if a cull is supported by science, it is very important that it is carried out in a humane and controlled way.

"Any decision to carry out a cull must be taken on a case by case basis based on the specific issues which impact a specific area. We don't believe this should be rolled out in a uniform way across the whole country. It is certainly not a case of one size fits all."

The Deer Initiative (DI), which is dedicated to a sustainable, managed deer population in England and Wales, has carried out research into how a cull might be carried out. They say that data on deer numbers and those culled need to be continually reviewed to assess whether culling levels need to be adjusted.

But its says that one off, heavy culls, followed by little or no culling, never achieve a sustained drop in numbers. Reduction culls need to be substantial and usually need to run over a number of years to be effective. They must then be consolidated by following with a realistic maintenance cull.

Deer harvest

Dr Dolman said: "We are not killing something and then incinerating the carcass - what we are talking about is harvesting a wild animal to supply wild free-ranging venison for our tables - for farm shops, for gastro pubs.

Trevor Banham of the Forestry Commission: "Numbers have got out of hand"

"What we are advocating isn't removing deer from the countryside - what we are advocating is trying to get on top of the deer population explosion and try to control the problems that are being caused.

"And in a way, [venison] provides a sustainable food source where you know where it comes from, you know it is ethically sourced, you know it is safe to eat, and that puts food on people's tables. As much as I love deer, to be a meat eater but then to object to the culling and harvesting of deer seems to be inconsistent."

Previous culling estimates have been lower. The Deer Initiative had previously said that maintaining a static population will require a cull of at least 20% of the population for the larger species (red, fallow, sika), and a cull of around 30% of the population for roe, muntjac and Chinese water deer.

Peter Watson, director of the DI, commented: "The DI welcomes any research that gives us a better understanding of wild deer populations and their impacts.

"We were happy to support this work by UEA and will look at the evidence to see how it should affect our Best Practice Guidance. Our aim is promote a sustainable wild deer population that is in balance with the habitat. It is for local landowners to examine the evidence and decide how best to respond to the UAE report."

But he added that this was a single study on two species (out of six) that could not be extrapolated to the whole of the UK, therefore suggesting a cull of 750,000 was not valid. He also said deer had to be managed at a landscape-scale that reflected the ecology of the deer and not man made ownership boundaries.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 758.

    We should just kill everything, I mean everything is just a pest and shouldn't be tolerated. Next we should concrete over every single piece of green land. WE AS HUMANS ARE BY FAR THE BIGGEST MOST DESTRUCTIVE PEST ON THE PLANET, perhaps that is where we should start?

  • rate this

    Comment number 757.

    We lecture countries about cutting down rainforests for development. We lecture other countries about killing endangered species such a tigers. Bunch of hypocrites. Can't offer the wolves back their home we took from them? Can't learn how to live and respect these animals because of our own selfishness. People even murdering Sea Eagles because they eat fish and that bothers people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 756.

    733. quantumcheese
    Look out for "Deer meat found in burgers scandal"......coming soon
    'Healthier, tastier and far more expensive meat than beef found in Burgers' doesn't sound like much of a scandal to me. I buy Venison burgers by choice (they don't half in size when you grill them for starters)

  • rate this

    Comment number 755.

    this is definatly a job for fenton

    also, we need a cheap alternative to horse meat

  • rate this

    Comment number 754.

    ... nom

  • rate this

    Comment number 753.

    "Nature should be left to deal with things her own way."

    if we left nature to it:
    Deer population continues to expand
    Eat bark, leaves, saplings,
    Few new trees grow,
    Deers run out of food
    Hundreds of thousands of deer and other animals stave to death.
    Trees recover
    Populations starts to recover


    We can kill a controlled amount to stop that happening.

    Which is more humane?

  • rate this

    Comment number 752.

    Sad, but a cull is necessary.
    Deer, breeding out of control, upsets the balance of nature. The habitat destruction caused by deer probably cause as much damage to the survival of some of our songbirds as the domestic cat.
    I know these views won't be popular and will get a number of negative ratings but sometimes tough decisions are necessary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 751.

    If a cull is needed then a cull is needed. There isn't a problem until the NON-scientists get involved. Crap, let's box cleaver and even sell the stuff to make the whole sustainability process less costly and more self-sustaining...However, if it's not needed, don't do it....simples really..

  • rate this

    Comment number 750.

    Sounds good to me, I'll start the application for a gun license!

  • rate this

    Comment number 749.

    741 Mike from Brum

    "Allow people on benefits to hunt wild deer for free - even on private land."

    Ha ha ha, then stand back and wait for the "NOW OUR TAXES ARE PAYING TO ARM THE IMMIGRANTS" headlines to start…

  • rate this

    Comment number 748.

    Hmmmm. A tad ironic when humans say that we have to cull some species because they have overpopulated an area.

  • rate this

    Comment number 747.

    We live in the Chilterns, surrounded by forest. 15 years ago it was exciting to see a deer - now we regularly see herds of 50 or more in the woods round the house. They destroy the trees, eating bark and ripping off branches. They are beautiful, but there are far too many of them and a cull is overdue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 746.

    Red deer is nice and healthier than beef. Fallow deer I did not like and if this cull means the price of venison is reduced because there is more on the UK market I might use it instead of processed meat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 745.

    This "venison is delicious" thing is most subjective.
    I really can't stand it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 744.

    Re-introduces Wolves? I'm all for it.

    The Wolves will go for the pampered domestic cats and the overweight corgis/spaniels of the townies when they occasionally drag them into the countryside - less cat and dog crap everywhere.

    You think urban foxes are a problem? Just wait until you take little Tommy to the park in Kensington or Newcastle and 'Canis Lupus' is there baring his teeth.

  • rate this

    Comment number 743.

    It's pretty obvious that there needs to be some form of deer cull, performed humanely and with compassion. However, since we take the responsibility to control the numbers of other species, why don't we take more responsibility to regulate the numbers of our own, vastly larger population through birth control. When God said 'go forth and multiply', I'm not sure 9 Billion was what he had in mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 742.

    We already have a problem here in Lincolnshire with Poachers coming from the Cities with high powered rifles& 4x4 shooting deer tresspassing on land. This is a irresponsible report it will encourage more of the same. Give us the Lynx any day shy timid keeps away from humans, than any ignorant 4x4 driving urbanite shooter who will be violent if confronted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 741.

    Allow people on benefits to hunt wild deer for free - even on private land.
    Free cull for the taxpayer, food on the table for the needy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 740.

    @722 Ewokmuncher Obviously letting nature take its course would be the best option, IF there were any other top predators than us in the UK. As there aren't (and yes that's because of human interference) then we have to act as predators ourselves, for the sake of the long-term health of the deer population as well as preventing further damage to the habitat of native species.

  • rate this

    Comment number 739.

    like the deer, it s a pity we can't cull other forms of population growth. A trimming of the UK human population should be next on the agenda........... resource hungry with many who give nothing back


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