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Managing increasing deer numbers in the UK

While deer numbers have become too high in some areas, it is possible to manage the population properly without eradicating them completely

Most estates and farms across the UK are doing their bit to manage deer numbers sustainably

It is an undeniable fact that deer numbers are increasing. It is also a less well-published fact that they are being very well managed on estates and farms and in private and Government-owned woodland throughout most of the UK. I should add, though, that the well-managed bit is an inconvenient truth to those who see deer and the reduction in their numbers as some sort of modern-day crusade. 

Yes, their numbers are too high in places and there are areas where deer are degrading the habitat, but it is wrong to assume that they are a problem everywhere and that it is impossible to manage them properly.

Tied in with this, there appears to have been an increase in individuals and commercial stalking enterprises contacting estate owners and estate offices out of the blue and offering them the benefit of their “expert advice” on deer management. Most of them are offering opinions on deer numbers and habitat without even having set foot in the place they have contacted and with no idea of what deer management plans the owners already have in place.



The estate office of a friend of mine, who is the headkeeper on a lovely estate in the Cotswolds, gets two or three such approaches a year, regardless of the fact that there is a stalking syndicate and that the deer are very well managed in-house by the keepering team. In fact, the offers and approaches are now so common that the company secretary simply sends a standard “thank you for your email” reply and no longer passes the enquiries on.

It reminds me of the ferreting boys when we had rabbits. They would bicker and argue among themselves and were continually trying to outdo each other and take each other’s ground. They’d steal a farm from their mates and start the ferreting a week earlier than they should have done just in case someone else got there first.

The bottom line is that most of these people are after more ground and more stalking — either to let out to clients or to add to the ground they already have. Their enquiries have nothing to do with concerns about the habitat or the welfare of the deer and everything to do with furthering their own aims. And, in the case of some of the more unscrupulous people who let stalking commercially, with lining their own pockets.

Then there are the others who are on the crusade I mentioned earlier, who see themselves as modern-day Pied Pipers who promise to rid the countryside of deer and hope to become local heroes as a result. They generally have little sympathy for the deer, are in favour of out-of-season licences and night shooting and will shoot anything that moves as long as it is a deer. 

I know of someone who was advocating head shots because there was less damage to the meat (and less chance of a carcass being rejected at the gamedealers), and night shooting from a vehicle because it is “easier to get close to them”. 

They gave not a moment’s thought to the heightened risk of wounding with head shots during the day, never mind the risks associated with doing it at night — if they ever managed to get a licence. Unsurprisingly, they don’t have much ground but are undeterred, see themselves as some sort of rural saviour and are still campaigning to get more.

How we change the mindset of these people is beyond me. We need to learn to live with deer, appreciate them for what they are and not just see them as a pest species that needs eradicating or some sort of quick money-making scheme.