Delegates at last week?s Deer Initiative conference called for a national system for the humane despatch of Britain?s growing number of deer road casualties. The scale of the deer-vehicle collision (DVC) problem on UK roads was discussed at the two-day conference, in Buxton, Derbyshire. Research puts the number of DVCs at 74,000 a year, causing 20 human deaths and £17million worth of damage to vehicles. The problem is bad enough for human road users, but disastrous for deer.

?The vast number of deer injured or killed in traffic incidents every year probably presents the single greatest welfare issue for wild deer in Britain,? said Deer Initiative director Peter Watson.

From an animal welfare perspective, however, a more important concern than the numbers of deer killed outright following DVCs is those that limp away to suffer or die of their injuries ? unless a suitably qualified person is available humanely to despatch them. ?It seems likely that the overall toll of severely injured deer not killed outright exceeds 8,500 in England and more than 10,000 for Britain,? said Mr Watson.

Local response to deer road casualties is patchy and there was a widespread call from delegates for a national call-out system that would alert suitably qualified and equipped stalkers, gamekeepers and others to deal with deer injured after collisions in their districts. Kim Wheeler-Mallows, of Defence Deer Management, which manages deer on MOD estates, argued for a system similar to the one currently operated by Dorset police, where officers direct accredited individuals to reported DVCs, providing communication and insurance cover, while ensuring that those involved have appropriate conditions on their firearm certificates.

?The Dorset scheme has been shown to work and provides the necessary support and safeguards,? said Mr Wheeler-Mallows, who was among several delegates arguing for a better deal for casualty deer. ?There should be a scheme based on the same principles extended across the country.?

The conference heard that there may be many more deer in years to come ? and so more DVCs. While the opportunity for further range expansion in roe and Scottish red deer is limited, other species are set to continue spreading to new areas. Dr Alastair Ward, of the Central Science Laboratory, said there was sufficient habitat in England for red deer to expand widely across the country. He added that muntjac and sika have the potential to grow in numbers enormously, with muntjac populations in particular currently showing an 8.2 per cent annual growth rate.

Deer may also benefit from climate change, argued Dr Justin Irvine, of the Macaulay Institute. Enhanced CO² in the atmosphere and milder winters will lead to greater woodland biomass, thereby boosting the carrying capacity of habitat, while the effect of warmer weather on roe deer is likely to result in earlier birth dates, he said.