1. ITV Report

Research calls for mass cull of deer

Muntjac among the species of deer targetted Photo: PA

Experts at the University of East Anglia in Norwich are recommending a mass cull of deer in order to protect biodiversity in the UK.

Culling on a massive scale is necessary just to keep the exploding deer population at its current level, they say.

The call to arms was made after new research showed that only by killing 50% to 60% of deer can their numbers be kept under reasonable control.

With total deer numbers conservatively estimated at about 1.5 million, it could result in more than 750,000 animals being shot every year.

Deer are said to be having a devastating effect on woodland, damaging farmers' crops, causing road accidents and threatening a danger to public safety in urban areas.

Shooting by trained and licensed hunters is the only practical way to keep their populations in check, according to Dr Paul Dolman, from the University of East Anglia.

I don't think it's realistic to have wolves and brown bears in rural England.

In the absence of natural predators, the only way to manage them is to shoot them."

– Dr Paul Dolman

Although they were kept on private land belonging to the nobility, native wild deer were virtually unknown in England for 1,000 years until their re-introduction by the Victorians.

Today, there are more deer in the UK than at any time since the Ice Age. Although it has been suggested that they could number more than 1.5 million, no-one knows for certain how many there are.

Deer strip woodland of wild flowers, brambles and shrubs, and disturb the ecology to the point that native birds are lost. The fact that nightingales are now so rare is largely blamed on deer.

Britain has a total of six deer species. Roe deer and red deer are the only two species native to the UK. Four others have been introduced from abroad since Norman times.

The most recent newcomers were the muntjac deer and the Chinese water deer, which became established in the wild in the 1920s.

Dr Dolman led the first full-scale census of roe and muntjac deer populations across 234 square kilometres (145 miles) of woods and heathland in Breckland, East Anglia.

The researchers drove more than 1,140 miles at night using thermal imaging cameras to spot deer and provide an accurate estimate of their true numbers.

The results, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, indicate that existing management strategies are failing.

Although deer numbers appeared stable, this was only because thousands of the animals were being pushed out into the surrounding countryside each year.

Culling would have to be carefully regulated and only carried out by trained stalkers. The result could be a welcome supply of fresh, healthy meat, said Dr Dolman.

We're talking about putting venison steaks on your family table or eating venison at gastropubs. If we shifted part of our diet to deer it wouldn't be a bad thing."

– Dr Dolman

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    Experts from the University of East Anglia and Thetford Forest have spoken to ITV News Anglia about the need for a mass cull of deer.