Deer damaging our woodlands

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Conservationists have backed a study which shows a drastic deer cull is needed to save our countryside.

University of East Anglia researchers say the UK has more deer than at any time since the ice age and with no predators, numbers are growing. It has made them a threat to biodiversity and increased road accidents and crop damage.

The researchers surveyed roe and muntjac deer across 234sq km of Thetford Forest to measure the effectiveness of deer management. It is the first landscape-scale study in Europe.

The results, published last week, show for the first time that present management efforts are not enough.

Researchers found that while deer management in the forest appeared to keep numbers stable, this was only because thousands of deer are ‘pushed out’ to surrounding areas, helping drive their spread.

They say a cull is needed of 53 per cent of muntjac from an estimated 3,516 and 60 per cent of the 2,211 roe deer just to offset their birth rate. The previous cull recommendations were 30 per cent for muntjac and 20 per cent for roe.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust’s head of conservation Dorothy Casey and Elveden Estate’s conservation manager Jim Rudderham both agreed with the study but nobody wants to eradicate deer.

SWT monitors deer numbers in its woodlands and only orders a cull if there is evidence of a negative impact.

Ms Casey said: “At the moment there is a negative impact in all our woodlands, though it varies. Deer browsing alters the structure of the woodland which is important for the birds and ground flora. Deer reduce the diversity.”

For example, in coppices trees are cut in rotation to regrow from the roots which form coppice ‘stools’ but deer over-browsing the new growth kill stools which can be hundreds of years old.

Mr Rudderham said conservationists culling deer might sound contradictory but he added: “Conservation is all to do with balance. If you lose balance with one species, other species suffer.”

He said Elveden Estate was part of a Breckland Deer group which co-ordinates culls on a wider basis but there were still areas where deer could not be killed for safety reasons or because land owners objected.

He added: “Raising public awareness that you need to control numbers is a step up.”

All deer shot on Elveden Estate are used in its farm shop, restaurant or the Elveden Inn.

Of the six species roaming Britain, only red and roe deer are native.