WMN opinion: Culling deer is vital – for both animal and landscape
Gather a group of regular rural road users together and it won't be long before one of them starts to talk about their close encounter with a deer. Around 74,000 road accidents every year can be attributed to the mammals, some 1.5 million of which are currently estimated to be roaming Britain's woods, fields and – increasingly – roadside verges, roundabouts and urban parks.
The expanding deer population, as a report in yesterday's Western Morning News first revealed, doesn't just affect road users. Farmers, woodland owners and conservationists are all complaining about the damage done by deer with everything from a dramatic drop in the number of ground-nesting birds to the loss of arable crops attributable to the rapid expansion of the deer population and their hearty appetites.
Yet already the suggestion – following a survey carried out by the University of East Anglia – that up to one million deer a year need to be culled or some 50% to 60% of the estimated current population, is causing controversy. As a report in today's WMN makes clear, even gamekeepers are concerned about increasing the amount of culling because they point out that deer stalking – for which you need deer – is a big earner in many rural areas. There will be complaints too from those who object to the killing of animals for sport or management. This is a row that will run and run.
And yet, as everyone who lives in the countryside already knows, deer, like many other species – from rooks to rats – have to be controlled and are already managed, responsibly, humanely and effectively.
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Here in the Westcountry, for example, the Deer Initiative, a national organisation with a strong regional presence, organises training for marksmen, liaises with different landowners, and ensures that the carcasses of culled deer are properly handled and get into the food chain so that more of us can enjoy nutritious, healthy and delicious venison. In short, this is a problem that is already part-way to being solved and does not need any kind of hysterical over-reaction that can sometimes be prompted when a matter already well understood in the countryside suddenly hits the headlines.
That is not to say the expansion of the deer population is not a problem. While muntjac, a non-native species the does of which can produce a fawn every seven months, are not yet a problem in Devon and Cornwall, there are already reports of roe deer "motorways" across farmland in the west. Large groups of roe and fallow deer are regularly decimating farmers' fields and ancient woodland as well as posing a risk to drivers. This report offers just a snapshot of the deer "crisis" and may or may not prove to be applicable across the whole country. Nevertheless it does highlight a serious issue and, if nothing else, emphasises to everyone who loves the countryside and loves wildlife that proper deer management is beneficial to the landscape – and to the deer.