There are six species of resident deer in the UK, four of which are classifed as 'introduced'. Most golfers and, indeed, some greenkeepers delight in seeing these frisky and flighty animals on the golf course but, as Peter Britton explains, their numbers are increasing at an alarming rate.
Over the past couple of decades, the wild deer population in the UK has exploded and it is estimated that there are now well over two million animals, many of which have moved into urban areas where an easy food source may be found. It has been calculated that, if left to their own devices, the population will double to a staggering four million by 2024.
With this swell in numbers comes an increase in damage to agricultural crops, forestry, golf courses and gardens. More worrying, perhaps, is the 75,000 reported deer/vehicle collisions last year, which resulted in twelve human fatalities.
The movement of deer into more domestic environments, therefore, has serious consequences. Whilst it may be a novelty to see such elusive creatures in your back garden or walking down the road where you live, the novelty value soon disappears when deer have been involved in a road traffic accident and people are injured. This is a far cry from Walt Disney's Bambi, and deer are costing millions of pounds in insurance claims alone.
It has been calculated that, even if twenty-five percent of the population were culled, the current numbers would see no significant fall. Currently, only fifteen percent are culled each year, which is why the estimate for 2024 stands at four million plus. Imagine if nothing were done at all!
The Deer Initiative, a charity mostly funded by Government, is carrying out research on urban deer for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) on better ways to manage the growing population, but there is little control in cities as it is expensive for local authorities to trap and shoot the deer.
Peter Watson, director of the Deer Initiative, said deer have moved into the cities as the population rises across the country due to a run of warm winters and lack of natural predators.
Left: Roe deer (Photo by Jared Belson) and Red deer
He said the territorial nature of most species mean deer move into new areas as the population grows and the suburbs have proved good feeding grounds for shrubs and young trees.
Ever more roe deer and red deer are being seen because cities are warmer and there are more young plants to eat during the cold weather. Non-native species, like fallow, muntjac and sika, breed faster and are smaller, making it easier for them to move into urban settings. These species will thrive in scruffy habitats such as overgrown railway cuttings or disused building sites.
In the countryside, a major concern surrounding deer is the spread of bovine tuberculosis and foot-and-mouth but, in the city, the worry is more about the growth in tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, that can spread to pets and humans. The animals will also strip bark from trees and eat precious plants.
"Whatever happens, there will be more deer in towns in the future and we just have to deal with that by either learning to live with it or dealing with the consequence," commented Peter Watson. "Dealing with the problem may well mean culling."
The RSPCA agrees that culls may have to be carried out in cities, as long as deer fences and other preventive measures have been put in place first, and the animals are killed humanely by trapping and shooting.
"If deer are causing a significant problem in a particular area then, at present, there may not be any practical option for resolving such problems but culling," a spokesman said.
Ian Rotherham, Professor of Environmental Geography at Sheffield Hallam University and an expert in urban animals, has carried out research into the growth of the deer population in cities. He said urban deer are becoming part of the city landscape just like foxes, squirrels and even badgers.
But, he said, humans can live with deer in the city and suggested introducing "deer passes", like landscaped flyovers on motorways to reduce motor accidents, and fencing around gardens.
"Some people are not keen on foxes in their garden, but most love them. It is the same with urban deer," he said. "There are issues, but we can learn to live with them."
University of East Anglia lecturer on ecology, Dr Paul Dolman, said; "if the UK was natural, we would have lynx, bear and wolves, natural predators of deer, as well as humans. Historically, deer wouldn't have stood a chance in the countryside because people were hungry. Now, people aren't living off the land, so deer are much more likely to survive."
He goes on to say that a University of East Anglia study has suggested localised, targeted culls, rather than a widespread cull might be necessary.
"We need a strategic objective. All the focus seems to be on areas where deer are out of control, but that leaves deer free to cause problems in other areas in the future."
The National Gamekeeper's Organisation (NGO) agrees on the need to cull more deer in certain areas. "The way to cull deer is on a regional and local basis, with gamekeepers and recreational stalkers liaising with one another," says Charles Nodder of the NGO.
Mark Nicolson, of the British Deer Society, opposes a widespread cull, but agrees culling is needed in some areas: "There are large parts of the UK where the deer population is in harmony with the environment, but there are places where it is not. We're one of the few animal charities that supports culling. We need to focus on management - the alternative for many deer is a lingering death."
The Wildlife Trusts believe culling should be done as a last resort and says that fencing can help in many cases. "The deer is an iconic species, something that is a thrill to get a glimpse of," says the Trusts' Paul Wilkinson. "But there's a need to introduce some management. Nobody goes into nature conservation to kill things. But we need to be grown up about it. Both culling and fencing are valid, but shooting should not be seen as the first option and it should be underpinned by science. We are trying to promote a wide abundance of wildlife and, if one species becomes overly dominant, then we are not achieving that. We have to recognise that deer no longer have a natural predator."
Scottish gamekeepers oppose any proposed significant increase in culling, arguing that wild deer for sport contributes £170m a year to the economy and provides 2,500 full-time jobs.
Sika deer (left) and Muntjac
Scottish Environment LINK said deer numbers had spiralled and they were damaging the country's moorland, peatland and "fragile populations" of other native species, such as capercaillie.
The group, the membership of which includes the National Trust for Scotland, RSPB Scotland and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, said a voluntary code of conduct has failed to tackle the scourge.
Landowners must instead be forced to comply with statutory targets for cutting deer numbers or be billed for government agencies to carry out the cull.
The group argues that estates want to keep deer numbers as high as possible to help stalking and called for them to bear the financial burden of culling under a "polluter pays" principle.
But Scotland's landowners and gamekeepers warned about the harm this would cause the £105 million stalking industry and the 2,520 jobs it is estimated to support.
Deer on the golf course
Deer can cause significant damage to golf courses. However, they are likely to leave turf alone and concentrate their assault on ornamental plants, whips and young trees up to ten years old. Additionally, their cloven hooves (with dew claws on some species), herding and gamboling instincts can cause significant damage to fine turf and bunkers.
Each year, greenkeepers repair or replace thousands of pounds in damage caused by these large and hungry grazers. Managing deer to reduce damage on the golf course demands an integrated approach, in much the same way as any other pest. Knowing your enemy is critical to your defence plan.
When creating an integrated deer management programme, keep in mind the following:
Deer are creatures of habit, and habits are harder to break than prevent. This explains why deer will readily go through fences installed over their familiar trails or why they return every spring to graze and destroy the same plants. This also explains why you must use management tactics consistently and with a heavy hand when you are "breaking" a population of deer used to grazing on your landscape.
Deer are adaptable, observant and more intelligent than we tend to give them credit for. This is why many scare tactics only work for a small window of time, before they learn to ignore what they determine to be no real threat.
Deer have strong preferences about what they eat. Utilising deer-resistant plants helps thwart major damage. For the same reason, if you plan to use plants favoured by deer, you must anticipate using methods to prevent deer damage. As with any pest management plan, combining tactics will result in the greatest success.
Wildlife management experts cite five distinct methods for preventing damage caused by deer. Of these methods, the last two prove to be the most viable combination for the golf course.
Plant Selection. Unfortunately, many plants we
favour as ornamentals are among the deer's favorite snacks.
However, some ornamentals are far less palatable to deer, and they
will usually leave these alone. That said, no plant can be
advertised as "deer proof," as extremely hungry deer have been
known to ravage even these. But selecting plants not favoured by
deer puts the odds of a successful planting in your favour.
Furthermore, plan to have ornamentals concentrated in fewer areas, which can be easier to protect and manage against deer damage. Choose a location that you frequently manage rather than an area tucked in a corner off the back nine where it is likely to be serviced less often. Members will appreciate a single bed filled with showy knockout roses rather than 10 beds with scattered stumpy, flowerless stalks on them.
Repellents. The most effective deer repellents employ an odour offensive to deer and discourage the animals from the area (versus those applied to plants that have an unfavourable flavour for the deer). Most products advertise that no offensive odour (created by active ingredients such as sulfur; putrescent egg solids; or garlic) is noticeable to humans after applications have dried or settled. Unfortunately, the applicator and anyone nearby will notice the odour during the window of application.
Repellents are available in liquid and granular formulas. Depending on the brand, both have similar durability under rain or irrigation. Liquid repellents are messy to mix and apply, but they offer protection higher off the ground, and you can apply them directly onto prized plants.
Granular products, on the other hand, protect only low-growing plants (less than 6 inches high). If deer pressure is particularly strong, either because your plants are a premium investment such as tulips or roses, or because you know deer are likely to return based on past years, plan to use an aggressive programme of repellents. Apply these often and always follow the product label. You may even combine granular and spray types.
In addition to coating the target plants with a repellent spray, apply two lines of repellents along the perimeter of the beds. Spray the first line at the perimeter of the bed and second line about 6 feet to 8 feet out, where deer will encounter it first. After a single season of using an aggressive repellent programme, the deer usually learn to avoid these areas. At this point, you may dial down the application schedule to lesser frequency for maintenance.
Whilst their generally large size and charming looks make them unique among the golf course pest line-up, the damage deer cause is anything but charming. Fortunately, employing a savvy plant selection combined with a schedule of repellents has proven effective in protecting plants against these pests on and around the course.
And remember, if the problem was caused by rats, no-one would think twice and they would be dealt with!
The following websites were sourced in the compilation of this
The six deer species found in the UK
Red deer (Cervus elaphus)
The red deer is Britain's largest native land mammal (adult stags weigh up to 190kg and are up to around 140cm at the shoulder).
In England, the main concentrations are in south-western England, East Anglia, and the Lake District, with a wide scatter of local herds elsewhere. In Wales, there are a small number of isolated herds.
Red deer are animals of woodland associated with open areas. They will sometimes spend their time almost exclusively in the open. They are herding animals which rut in the autumn, usually producing single calves in the spring.
Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus)
The roe deer is primarily an animal of mixed and small woodland, but is capable of adapting to a wide variety of habitats. It has colonised the northern conifer forests and has penetrated many towns, making use of gardens, parks and other open spaces where there is food and cover. It may also be seen well out into open farmland.
The roe deer is a native species which has been present in Britain since at least the Mesolithic period. However, probably because of over-hunting, it became extremely scarce in medieval times and, by 1700, was considered extinct in southern and central England and all of Wales. It also disappeared in most regions of Scotland except for the northern Highlands.
Today, roe deer occur in most of southern England, all of northern England and Scotland, and they are continuing to spread into the Midlands and Wales.
Fallow deer buck (left) and Roe deer
Fallow deer (Dama dama)
Fallow are considered as a naturalised, though re-introduced species. The present feral population owes its existence largely to park escapes. Many parks were broken up during the Civil War (1642) and again during the two World Wars. The fallow deer range and numbers have increased substantially since 1972.
Fallow are a herding species and exhibit extreme flexibility in most aspects of their social organisation, group size is flexible and influenced by both habitat and season. In high-density populations in large woodlands, males live in separate groups to the females and young, except during the autumn rut. In lower-density populations in agricultural areas, however, mixed-sex groups may regularly occur throughout the winter.
Fallow have a variety of mating systems ranging from non-territorial defence of harems to the development of clusters of small mating territories or "leks". Fallow generally produce single fawns on an annual basis.
Muntjac (Muntiacus reeves)
Two species of muntjac have been introduced to Britain in the past. The larger Indian muntjac was brought to Woburn Park in about 1900. After a short time, it was removed from the park, but a small population survived in the wild until 1925. The smaller Reeves' muntjac was introduced before 1900 and flourished, rapidly spreading into surrounding areas.
The Reeves Muntjac is regarded as an introduced non-native species and its release into the wild is prohibited under Section 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Owing to their subtropical origin, muntjac are not seasonal breeders. They produce single fawns every seven months, gestation is 210 days and lactation is six to eight weeks. Mating follows quickly after birth.
Reeves Muntjac are territorial and the social unit is a family group, with young adults being driven off before the arrival of the next fawn. Males make large scrapes and fray on low branches, mostly using their tusks, rather than their antlers. The tusks are the muntjac's primary weapons, showing its primitive ancestry. Both sexes bark like a small dog at intruders, often continuing for many minutes.
Sika deer (left) and Muntjac
Sika deer (Cervus nippon)
Most sika in Britain are Japanese in origin and were brought first to Ireland in about 1860, to Powerscourt, and thence to a variety of places in England and Scotland. Some were released deliberately, eg. in Kintyre, the New Forest, Dorset and Bowland forest. The deer at Bowland are thought to have been Manchurian sika. Others escaped from parks, especially during the two World Wars, and established feral populations.
In recent decades sika have significantly extended their range. In England, they are to be found in Lancashire and Yorkshire, southern and mid Dorset and the New Forest. In addition, small local populations exist in the vicinity of several of the parks from which they originally escaped.
Sika prefer woodland or thicket and graze on nearby open areas such as farmland or heath/moorland. They are herding animals which rut in the autumn, usually producing single calves in the spring.
Chinese Water deer (Hydropotes inermis)
Chinese Water Deer are a non-native species introduced from populations along the Yangtze River where they are on the IUCN 'red list' as a vulnerable species. They are said to be the most primitive living member of the Cervidae family, in part because the buck carries large canine teeth or tusks and has no antlers, characteristics that other deer have evolved beyond. This makes the Chinese water deer a biologically important animal.
Chinese water deer are the least common of the UK wild deer species, they are a territorial species and their distribution is largely limited to the Midlands and East Anglia. They have been in the country for longer than muntjac and have a potentially higher birth rate (usually twins or triplets) but, although they are increasing in range, they are doing so far more slowly than muntjac.
Preferred habitats are woodlands next to grazing areas and more open and wet areas such as reed beds, boggy areas and river edges. They adapt readily to open areas of grassland such as agricultural fields and parks, and are often be seen out in daylight.
www.deeraware.com for more information
Chinese water deer
Deer and the law
Deer are protected by the Deer Act 1991 which created the following criminal offences:
Poaching of deer
It is a criminal offence to enter onto land without the consent of the owner or occupier or other lawful authority in search or pursuit of deer with the intention of taking, killing or injuring it.
It is also a criminal offence to intentionally take, kill or injure or to attempt to take, kill or injure deer; or search for or pursue deer with the intention of taking, killing or injuring it; or to remove the carcase of a deer, without the consent of the owner or occupier of the land or other lawful authority.
Taking or killing of certain deer in close season
It is a criminal offence to take or intentionally kill certain deer in close season or to attempt to do so. These are as follows:
Red deer stags: 1 May to 31 July;
Red deer hinds: 1 March to 31 October;
Fallow deer bucks: 1 May to 31 July;
Fallow deer does: 1 March to 31 October;
Roe deer bucks: 1 November to 31 March;
Roe deer does: 1 March to 31 October;
Sika deer stags: 1 May to 31 July;
Sika deer hinds: 1 March to 31 October.
An exception is made for businesses who keep deer in enclosed land for the production of meat or other foodstuffs or skins or other by-products, or as breeding stock. However, such deer have to be conspicuously marked so that they can be identified.
The Secretary of State has the power to make an order adding, varying or by deleting the close seasons specified by the Deer Act 1991.
Taking or killing of deer at night
It is a criminal offence to take or intentionally kill deer between the expiry of the first hour after sunset and the beginning of the last hour before sunrise or to attempt to do so.
Use of prohibited weapons and other articles
It is a criminal offence to set a trap, snare, or poisoned or stupefying bait calculated to cause injury to any deer coming into contact with it or to use one of these methods for the purpose of taking or killing a deer or to attempt to do so.
It is also a criminal offence to use certain firearms or ammunition set out in the act and certain other weapons and articles or to attempt to do so.
It is a criminal offence to discharge a firearm or project a missile at deer from a vehicle or to attempt to do so unless the person has the written authority of the occupier of the land.
What defences are available?
Where a person is charged with an offence under the Deer Act 1991 the following defences are available:
that the act was done in pursuance of a requirement by the Minister of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs;
that the act was done to prevent the suffering of an injured or diseased deer;
where a smooth-bore gun is used, if the deer had been so seriously injured otherwise than by that person's act, or was in such a condition, that to kill it was an act of mercy;
where in the case of the slaughtering of a deer, the person uses certain other types of smooth-bore guns;
there are certain defences available to occupiers of land, members of their household, their employees and persons who have the right to take or kill deer on land;
where the person has a licence granted by English Nature.
What powers does the Deer Act 1991 give to the police?
Under the Deer Act 1991 the police have the power to stop and search a person and search and examine any vehicle, animal, weapon or other thing that that person may be using where there is reasonable grounds to believe that an offence under that Act has been or is being committed.
The Deer Act 1991 gives the police the power to seize and detain as evidence any deer, venison, vehicle, animal, weapon or other thing relating to the offence and the power to sell any deer or venison seized.
The Deer Act 1991 gives the police the power to enter onto any land other than a dwelling house without the need for obtaining a warrant when exercising their powers under the Act or when arresting a person for an offence under the Act.
What powers does the Deer Act 1991 give to the Courts?
The penalty for committing one of the offences set out above is a fine and, in some cases, imprisonment.
The Court also has the power to order the forfeiture of any deer or venison in respect of which the offence was committed and any vehicle, animal, weapon or other thing which was used to commit the office or which was capable of being used to take, kill or injure deer.
In certain circumstances, the Court also has the power to cancel any firearm or shotgun certificate held by a person.