Deer report prompts call for landowners’ joint approach

© Kyle Moore Photography
Red Deer Stag

© Kyle Moore Photography Red Deer Stag - Credit: Kyle Moore

A DEER stalker has called for landowners to come together and come up with a common approach following a study which recommended a massive cull in the UK.

Deer stalking at Euston Estate

Deer stalking at Euston Estate

The report, published last week by the University of East Anglia (UEA), said shooting by trained and licensed hunters was the only practical way to keep the populations in check, and that they should be reduced by about 50-60%

Deer at Euston Estate

Deer at Euston Estate

Deer are said to be having a devastating effect on woodland, damaging crops, causing road accidents and threatening a danger to public safety in urban areas.

Halesworth-based deer stalker Graham Downing, who is chairman of the Suffolk Country Land and Business Association and edits the British Deer Society journal, Deer, stressed that he had “great confidence and a lot of respect” for the report’s authors.

“I would agree that in some areas where they are having an adverse impact on biodiversity, on agriculture, on road traffic accidents that the cull needs to be substantially increased as the report says,” he said.

But he added: “You have got to look at each individual case and each individual landscape unit and you have got to manage deer within the landscape units.”

Deer are managed on a property by property basis, but deer walk across property boundaries, he pointed out.

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The movement of deer is known to be wide, but a lot has yet to be discovered about how far they can range, he added. Red deer in East Anglia had “huge” ranges, he said.

“Every landowner is going to have his or her own rationale for deer management,” he said.

“There are lots of different approaches a landowner might take. Individual landowners need to get together and share experiences and to come up with a common approach that enables deer to be controlled on a slightly wider landscape level.”

The overall objective must be to maintain a sustainable deer population, he said.

Deer populations are “notoriously hard” to estimate, but there were certainly pockets where populations were very high, he said.

“It’s almost impossible to count deer any more than it is to count lots of other wild animals. You can’t count them in a field. You can only ever come up with estimates and obviously that’s what the team from the UEA has done.”

He said the study estimate of a 1.5million population was lower than most estimates by the Deer Initiative, a partnership of statutory, voluntary and private interests which supports the sustainable management of wild deer. However, there were some recognised population hot-spots in the UK, such as the Thetford Forest.

“These are areas where there are known to be high populations of deer having impacts on biodiversity, agriculture and road traffic accidents,” he said.

But there were complex factors to consider when looking at a cull, he said. There are some six species of wild deer in the UK, some of which, like the Chinese Water Deer, were introduced in the 19th century.

“They are an introduced species from the end of the 19th century and some people wonder whether or not as a non-native species there needs to be a non-native cull but equally in their own country, in China, they are under threat,” he said.

“The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red Data Book lists the Chinese water deer as “lower risk, near threatened” in China. The British population is thought to account for 10% of the world’s population.”

Red deer populations date back much further, to the last ice age, he said, but were radically reduced in medieval times.

“You have got to balance the presence of a native species like the red deer against the fact that woodlands have developed in the absence of red deer,” he said. “What we have got is extremeley large grazing herbivores in our woodlands. The trick is to keep them in balance with the habitat.”

In parallel with any cull, the market for wild venison should be developed, said Mr Downing, who sells wild venison from his own deer stalking work at the farm gate.

“We have seen great strides over the last couple of years with the development of the venison market,” he said. “It’s fantastic, but there’s much further we can go down that road. If you do that and encourage people to eat wild venison it will encourage that process along the way.