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.

News
news
Voices
voicesThe Ukip leader on why he's done nothing illegal
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
Arts & Entertainment
artYouth club owner says mural is 'gift from the sky' so he can prevent closure of venue
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Online Advertising Account Executive , St Pauls , London

£26K-30k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Advertising Account Executive - Online, Central London

£25K-28k + Bonus, Private Medical Insurance, Company Pension: Charter Selectio...

Senior Infrastructure Consultant

£50000 - £65000 Per Annum potentially flexible for the right candidate: Clearw...

Public Sector Audit - Bristol

£38000 per annum + Benefits: Pro-Recruitment Group: Do you have experience of ...

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?