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 838.


  • rate this

    Comment number 837.

    If one replaces 'deer' and its derivatives with 'homo sapiens', and '1.5 million' with '70 million' then one has a better idea of the cause of the problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 836.

    I honestly think that it is time to reintroduce the country's natural predators, wolves, bears and lynx. European wolves and bears use deer as pray and fear humans. There would be strong objection from farmers, understandably, but I think if we followed Catalonia's example we could make it work. Reestablishing the natural balance is the only long term solution as I see it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 835.

    Please start round us! (River Wyre, Lancashire). They eat the allotments, wreck ground cover in woodland areas, are a menace on the road are delicious to eat and a healthy alternative to horse meat.

  • rate this

    Comment number 834.

    817. Dr Brian Skinner
    Wild boars are full of parasitic worms. I'd be surprised if wild deer weren't the same. I expect that they would turn out to be uneatable

    TB is the main notifiable disease in deer and because they are ruminates they don't have the same issues with human transferable parasites (worms). You often see liver flukes but the meat is still edible

  • rate this

    Comment number 833.

    We kill and eat Cows, Sheep and Pigs.
    Here is a good chance to obtain a lean meat, by killing and eating Venison.

    I don't see any downside to a humate cull (i.e. a professional quick death) with health inspections before being sold.

    Also a chance to reduce the number of Car/Deer incidents.

  • rate this

    Comment number 832.

    ...and a useful source of healthy meat methinks. Bambi Sausages :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 831.

    It seems that there is a large number of people who would like to see wolves re-introduced to this country. In the long term such a program may have an impact on deer numbers in the more remote parts of the countryside. In Yellowstone (an area half the size of Wales) the wolves number about 100 and make about 300 kills each year so how will they solve the problem. A cull can be the only solution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 830.

    Is the deer population out of control? I've never even seen one but ok if people tell me they're out of control.....
    Where are they out of control? Not round here....but ok
    I suppose we could bring back hunting...
    Now that's something we have round here.... stupid fat red faced posh people who have been lost every sunday since the hunting ban
    Can we hunt them first, then deer, then foxes etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 829.


    They havent managed it very well then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 828.

    " 50% cull of scientists necessary, say UK red deer "

    Go figure which is more logical.........

  • rate this

    Comment number 827.

    Give meat to poor

  • rate this

    Comment number 826.

    Well it would make a change from Horse burgers.

    -Personally culling a few of the upper class twits who like shooting animals in what is euphemistically called "Field Sports" might be more satisfying.

    I have played plenty of sports on a field most involved odd shaped balls not 12 bore shotguns!

  • rate this

    Comment number 825.

    817. Dr Brian Skinner
    Wild boars are full of parasitic worms. I'd be surprised if wild deer weren't the same. I expect that they would turn out to be uneatable.
    Prepare to be surprised. I've eaten both repeatedly.

    Cooking is the trick. Eating RAW wild boar isn't a good idea. Effectively every chicken in the UK carries either Salmonella & or campylobacter. Raw chicken not a good idea either

  • rate this

    Comment number 824.

    813. bigsammyb
    The law requires a .243 rifle yet often the police do not want to issue such firearms because of the distance they can travel and are fearful of ricochets.

    Not true you can use a .223 on deer in England, rim fire rifles do deliver enough energy, are not humane and must not be used. The police will issue an FAC if the requester is sane and proves that they have land to shoot on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 823.

    Yes,we should cull anything on 4 legs, turn it into processed meat,force everyone to eat it and if they refuse cull them as well,as all vegetarians are terrible people and should also be vote tory at the next general election and take out a subscription to the daily mail!

  • rate this

    Comment number 822.

    I personally think we should import Simba and a few of his mates from Africa to kill them off. How cool would that be - the UK with Lions roaming the countryside. Grab and Bag a few of them chavs and dump them in the wild won't go a miss as well. Then when we are finished, deport simba and his friends back to africa.

  • rate this

    Comment number 821.

    I used to have a pet deer, so you can gather just how much I really love these beautiful creatures. However, there are just too many of them now. A scientific cull of the least healthy and weakest will improve the national herd. Venison is not only delicious, it's one of the lowest in saturated fat of commonly-eaten meats.

  • rate this

    Comment number 820.

    Leave the Deer alone! lets do something a little more effective I propose a cull of at least 100% of the ConDemLab hegemony.
    This population of habitual carpetbaggers are decimating everything they touch start the cull now before its too late!

  • rate this

    Comment number 819.

    The British countryside has been managed since the 17th century;"

    Since neolithic times actually.


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