First in-depth UK deer census highlights need for increased culls

Mar 07, 2013
File picture shows a deer in Knole Park, southern England. Half of the Britains deer population needs to be culled to preserve woodlands and birdlife, said a scientific study published on Thursday.

Current approaches to deer management are failing to control a serious and growing problem, according to new research by the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Researchers drove more than 1140 miles at night and used thermal imaging and night vision equipment to quantify the population of roe and muntjac deer in a unique study spanning the border of Norfolk and Suffolk.

The results, published today in the Journal of Wildlife Management, show for the first time that present management efforts are not enough to stop populations spreading out of control.

There are more deer in the UK than at any time since the ice age. In the absence of natural predators, populations are continuing to expand - causing a serious threat to biodiversity, as well as road traffic accidents and crop damage.

The research team investigated the numbers, sex ratio and fertility of roe and muntjac deer across 234 km2 of forested land and heathland in Breckland, East Anglia, to measure the effectiveness of deer management. It is the first time that such a landscape-scale study has been carried out in Europe and the first time that control efforts have been compared to known numbers.

They found that while deer management appeared to control numbers at a stable level, this was only because thousands of deer are 'pushed out' to the surrounding countryside each year, helping drive the further spread of deer.

In the Breckland study area, researchers identified a necessary cull of 1864 muntjac from an estimated population of 3516 (53 per cent) and 1327 roe deer out 2211 (60 per cent) just to offset productivity, with greater numbers needing to be culled if populations are to be reduced.

These figures greatly exceed previous cull recommendations for muntjac (30 per cent) and roe (20 per cent).

Lead researcher Dr Paul Dolman, from UEA's school of Environmental Sciences, 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 Kristin Wäber, who conducted the study while a PhD student at UEA, 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. To effectively reduce and stabilise the population establishing numbers is vital.

"In Thetford Forest, despite an active programme of professional management culling thousand of deer, the numbers culled did not offset productivity. It is likely that this is happening in other landscapes across much of England. This is a particular problem for non-native invasive species like muntjac.

"In recent years people have become more and more concerned about the impacts deer are having in North America, Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Increasing deer populations are a serious threat to biodiversity – particularly impacting on woodland birds such as migrant warblers and the nightingale.

"They also carry diseases such as Lymes, and if numbers are not properly managed, they can cause damage to crops as well as road traffic accidents. To help control carbon emissions the government has set targets to increase woodfuel production, but this will be hard to achieve when woodlands are under so much pressure from deer.

"Current approaches to deer management are failing to contain the problem – often because numbers are being underestimated. Cull targets are often too low. This research shows that an annual cull of 53 per cent for muntjac and 60 for roe deer is necessary to curb their continuing increase and spread."

Explore further: Dwindling wind may tip predator-prey balance

More information: 'Achieving Landscape-Scale Deer Management for Biodiversity Conservation: The Need to Consider Sources and Links' by K. Waber, P. Dolman (both UEA) and J. Spencer (Forestry Commission) is published in the Journal of Wildlife Management March 7, 2013.

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Lurker2358
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 07, 2013
I wonder what gun laws Britain has?

Can't they just issue hunting licenses and let people harvest as they please?

If guns are banned, they could have a "primitive weapons" season, where people would use bows or spears.

England had a history of big game hunting, but I wonder what they do in modern times? I'm not really familiar with their policies.
Lurker2358
1.7 / 5 (6) Mar 07, 2013
If this many deer were distributed throughout the entire British Isles, the U.K. would have 15 or 16 deer per square mile.

Considering they can't be in the cities, towns, parking lots, military bases, ports, roads, or homes, plus some terrain that deer can't thrive in anyway...then the deer must be crammed into a much higher density in the forests and country side. Also you must factor in all the cattle and farmland where deer are not permitted to be.

If figure they are probably somewhere around 10 acres of land per deer, maybe less, by the time you factor all that other stuff out.
Moebius
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 07, 2013
Hope there aren't any aliens analyzing earth in the same way. The culling of people that would be required to save the planet would be huge.
daggoth
1 / 5 (3) Mar 07, 2013
Lock n load baby!
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (4) Mar 07, 2013
I wonder what gun laws Britain has?

Can't they just issue hunting licenses and let people harvest as they please?

If guns are banned, they could have a "primitive weapons" season, where people would use bows or spears.

England had a history of big game hunting, but I wonder what they do in modern times? I'm not really familiar with their policies.
So... Lurker... This is the Internet. Why don't you just look these things THE FUCK up? Sorry I don't mean to be any ruder than you are being.
islatas
not rated yet Mar 07, 2013
If this many deer were distributed throughout the entire British Isles, the U.K. would have 15 or 16 deer per square mile.
Considering they can't be in the cities, towns, parking lots, military bases, ports, roads, or homes, plus some terrain that deer can't thrive in anyway...then the deer must be crammed into a much higher density in the forests and country side. Also you must factor in all the cattle and farmland where deer are not permitted to be.

You must live in a densely populated city to think this. I don't think even 60-100 deer per square mile is a high estimate in my area of New Jersey. It's likely even higher in suburban areas where hunting isn't legal. We have a herd of nearly 30 in the field behind our house every morning and night and it's culled every season. Deer also don't know not to be on farmland. In fact they generally concentrate around it in rural areas for food in my experience. Maybe UK deer do as they're told?
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Mar 07, 2013
I live in a rural area in Louisiana. We've never had 15 deer per square mile.

If there were 60 to 100 deer per square mile, you wouldn't even be able to drive down the street without running a high risk of hitting one just about every time you got in the car. That's like a deer for every 6 to 10 acres.
_traw_at
not rated yet Mar 08, 2013
The average home range per animal for deer (white tailed deer, at least) is 536 acres- just under a square mile (640 acres) but during the rutting season, the home range for a male expands to 853 acres.
Source of figures quoted: http://www.esf.ed.../wtd.htm

The size of a deer's home range varies with the local environment. In areas like West Texas, which would have less food for the animals, the home range would be much larger than, for example, lusher temperate grass lands with high rainfalls.

The assertions in this article are difficult to accept without further research in the field(s).

For much of the past 1000 years or so, most of the population of the British Islands had difficulty accessing wild game on the large percentage of land controlled by the mucky-mucks. If they did so, they were labeled as poachers, and often hung.

A hunter doesn't need a gun. A decent bow does a better job anyways.
Jo01
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 09, 2013
Reintroduce the wolf. Problem solved.

J.
Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Mar 09, 2013
Traw_At:

What do you say to "Islatas" above, who believes an alleged 60 to 100 deer living on a square mile is normal or favorable?

This is what happens when some clueless nut case activist, who probably hypocritically lives in the city, tries to describe wildlife norms...