Only mass deer cull can prevent destruction of British woodlands and wildife, say scientists

Report finds between 50 and 60 per cent of wild deer should be destroyed each year for population to remain stable

Science Editor

A A A

Britain’s deer population is out of control with numbers now reaching levels that are causing serious and sustained damage to wild flowers and birds according to the first scientific assessment of the density of deer living in the English countryside.

Scientists have found that deer numbers are now greater than at any time since the end of the last Ice Age and only a dramatic increase in culling can prevent the “hyper-herbivory” that is destroying the nation’s woodlands and its wildlife.

A study has found that between 50 and 60 per cent of wild deer would have to be shot each year in order for the existing population to remain stable. This could mean an annual cull of more than 750,000 deer based on current estimates of deer numbers, said Paul Dolman, an ecologist at the University of East Anglia.

“Nobody knows how many deer there are in the UK because nobody had counted them. This is the first systematic attempt to estimate their numbers,” Dr Dolman said.

“Deer numbers are increasing because there is no check on them. Deer populations are going through the roof – there is an explosion in numbers,” he said yesterday.

“They are completely eating out the lower shrub layer of woodlands and it has an impact on woodland birds....Our woodlands are going to be eaten out,” he added.

There are six species of wild deer in Britain. The red deer and roe deer are native species, while the fallow, muntjac, sika, and Chinese water deer have all been introduced. In the absence of natural predators, and a shift away from hunting and trapping over the past half century, numbers of all of them have increased dramatically, Dr Dolman said.

Deer eat woodland shrubs and undergrowth causing extensive damage to the habitat of woodland birds, such as the nightingale. They are also destroying important woodland plants, such as the Oxlip and the bluebell, he said.

Although culling takes place on some of the land occupied by deer, next to nothing is known about how effective it is at controlling overall deer populations. The latest study suggests that existing culling is not nearly enough to limit the inexorable growth of deer numbers, and many animals merely move from one area to another, Dr Dolman said.

“Deer management is often based on guesswork. This is the first time that a population has been quantified and studied in terms of how the deer are breeding to measure the effectiveness of deer management,” Dr Dolman said.

The study, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, estimated deer density over 234 square kilometres (90 square miles) of forested land and heath in Breckland, East Anglia. Kristin Wäber, a postgraduate student at UEA, drove more than 1,140 miles at night with infra-red thermal imaging equipment to count individual roe and muntjac deer on the Norfolk-Suffolk border.

The scientists calculated that it would be necessary to cull 1,864 muntjac out of an estimated local population of 3,516 – some 53 per cent – and 1,327 roe deer out of a population of 2,211 – 60 per cent – just to offset the increase in deer numbers each year.

Dr Waber said: “Native deer are an important part of our wildlife that add beauty and excitement to the countryside, but left unchecked they threaten our woodland biodiversity. Trying to control deer without a robust understanding of their true numbers can be like sleepwalking into disaster.”

Dr Dolman said that shooting deer at night with thermal imaging equipment by trained stalkers would be the most efficient and humane way of dealing with the deer problem. The meat would be used to supply a thriving market in venison, he said.

“In the absence of predators the only way to manage them is to shoot them. This has been happening but not nearly enough,” Dr Dolman said.

“This would be an opportunity for the public to go into a local gastro-pub and eat venison knowing that they will eat a wild, free-ranging animal that has been humanely killed,” he said.

“I’ve been a vegetarian for 15 years but I’ve no problem with eating muntjac deer….For anyone to eat meat and complain of culling deer lacks consistency,” he added.

Wild deer of Britain

Red deer (Cervus elaphus)

Red deer are the biggest species of wild deer in Britain, and indeed the larges native land mammal. They once threatened the ancient Caledonian pine forests of Scotland, but are also increasing in parts of South West England, East Anglia and the Lake District.

Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus)

The roe deer is the second native species of Britain, but much smaller than the red deer. Numbers have increased dramatically, damaging crops, trees, gardens and woodland habitats – its main predator, the lynx, has long since disappeared.

Fallow deer (Dama dama)

An introduced species, the fallow deer came to Britain probably as early as the 11 Century with the Norman Conquest. They are an adaptable species, living in mixed broad-leaved woodland and arable farmland, where they can cause extensive crop damage.

Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi)

There are thought to two species of Asian muntjac living wild in Britain, the Reeves’ muntjac and the larger Indian muntjac. Although they are a small deer, scientists say they are a particular problem because they can breed all year round.

Sika (Cervus nippon)

Another Asian deer, the sika was probably introduced from Japan in the late 19 Century. They have extended their range significantly in recent years and can be found in Lancashire, Yorkshire and the New Forest area of Dorset.

Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis)

In their native wild habitat along the Yangtze River, the Chinese water deer are considered to be a vulnerable species. They are the least common deer in Britain and cause the least damage to wildlife but are capable of outbreeding the muntjac deer.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
life
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer (PHP & Wordpress) - Central London

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Web Dev...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative - Unskilled & Skilled

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen to jo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee