Deer expert Niall Rowantree discusses the roe deer. What makes the animal so loved by deerstalkers and even wildlife-watchers? He looks at roe deer management and hunting, natural history and even some of the stories and legends that surround this special little deer.
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Why shoot deer?
There are more than two million red, roe, fallow, sika, muntjac and Chinese water deer in Britain’s countryside and semi-urban areas, the highest level for 1,000 years. Numbers have doubled since 1999, according to the Deer Initiative, the UK government’s deer agency.
Deer are an attractive and an important part of our wildlife. However, they have no natural predator in the UK so numbers must be sensibly and strategically managed to keep them in balance with their habitat and to prevent damage to crops, trees, woodland flora, gardens and other wildlife.
Deer cause £4.5 million-worth (Forestry Commission Scotland) of damage to plantations and other commercial woodlands in Scotland. Crop damage is estimated at £4.3m a year according to DEFRA, with the greatest damage on cereal crops in east and south-west England.
More than 8,000 hectares (Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology) of woodland with SSI status is currently in ‘unfavourable’ or ‘recovering’ condition due to deer impacts such as browsing and fraying. Deer can also influence the variety of wildlife in woodlands and other habitats by altering structural and plant species diversity. According to the University of East Anglia’s Dr Paul Dolman, that has resulted in a 50% decline in woodland bird numbers where deer are present, impacting particularly on nightingales, blackcaps, chiffchaffs and warblers.
Deer are susceptible to Bovine TB and may be responsible for the transmission of TB to cattle. They are also the likely driver behind the UK’s increasing tick population (Scharlemann et al 2008).
Happily, venison is a delicious meat. It is wild, natural and free range, and – almost fat-free – it is one of the healthiest meats available today. Results from research commissioned by the Game-to-Eat campaign (Leatherhead Food International Research 2006) suggest that there are real health benefits to eating game. Venison is high in protein, low in saturated fatty acids and contains higher levels of iron than any other red meat.
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