Rory champion photography


Are deer out of control?

Here in the UK medium-size mammals are not easy to spot at the best of times. The Serengeti it is not!

There are various reasons for this, but it's mainly because we just don't have the large concentrations of animals that you might find in other countries. Also, because of our temperate climate, whilst we may have what would be deemed healthy numbers of mammals considering the size of our country, the sheer amount of natural cover for animals makes them difficult to spot and even more difficult to get close.

So as numbers of deer have significantly increased over the last decade or so, it is not without a pang of sorrow that we have to 'manage' them more effectively. In other words, cull them back to reasonable levels.

Chinese water deer shedding its winter coat

Chinese water deer shedding its winter coat

There are six species of deer, and we form a furrowed brow when anyone mentions the non-native types of Muntjac (below) and Chinese Water Deer (above), the latter being slightly more forgiveable for the fact that they are listed as 'vulnerable species' by the IUCN, although this is mainly due to Chinese appetite. Other species include roe, fallow, silka and finally the majestic 'monarch of the glen' red deer (final image below), however they are largely concentrated in Scotland where there is more space and deer stalking is much more commonplace.

Muntjac deer wading through marshland

Muntjac deer wading through marshland

I have indeed noticed the increase in deer where I live, and I'm thrilled that I will be almost-guaranteed to get within 10 metres of a deer virtually every time I go out for a stroll along the water meadow. There is something very satisfying when I watch a deer browsing quietly in the landscape, the only sound the gentle slosh of water as it wades ankle-deep through the marsh. There is something very prehistorically natural about it and for half an hour I am able to forget that there is any human civilisation close by despite a low-level drone of the A47 a few miles away.  It also means that, in order to see wildlife up close and personal, I don't have to get up at an ungodly hour to do so.

Red deer in Sutherland, Scotland, shedding the velvet of its antlers

Red deer in Sutherland, Scotland, shedding the velvet of its antlers

That said, it is important to recognise that the directly observable is not necessarily the reality, and the prevalence of deer upsets the delicate natural balance of our aged landscapes.

The fundamental problem seems to be that deer have no natural predator, whereas thousands of years ago there would have been several (in the form of wolves and bears) in the larger expanses of untouched forests of northern England. This has meant we have the highest deer population in over a millennium. In turn, this means that legions of deer roam our forests and marshland nibbling as they go and decimating both natural and man-made resources. And as sampling buds crops are consumed in vast quantities, the other inhabitants suffer. In short, too many deer means less biodiversity.

It's an almost-perfect scenario for deer. Whilst some hunting is allowed, they are largely untouched. In addition, in southern parts, deer have not had any natural predators [possibly] ever, at least not within the confines of recent or ancient history. In prehistoric times, there would have been many and deer, like most game, would have provided the main food source for predators.

What there would have been though were humans, or our predecessors, who would have roamed the landscape hunting deer for food.

And here's what makes this situation more easily dealt with and palatable. Rather than stacking up and burning the spoils of a widespread cull, we should give thought to what can be provided for the dinner table.

Deer provide a local, healthy (lean) and sustainable (provided it's properly managed) source of meat. The word 'venison' has up until recently conjured images up posh-nosh in over-expensive gastropubs, however alongside other country fare like rabbit of which there is an almost-inexhaustible supply, we're looking at a very real, healthy and tantalising alternative to the mainstream offerings of insipid, dry and tasteless chicken breast.

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