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Keywords:

  • deer;
  • agricultural damage;
  • forestry damage;
  • conservation

Abstract

Probably in response to recent changes in habitat structure, populations of a number of species of deer are increasing both in numbers and in geographical distribution in lowland Britain. In the wake of this expansion there is increasing awareness and concern over damage to agriculture/horticulture and forestry, as well as damage to sensitive vegetation in conservation areas.

Despite a perception that damage levels are rising, data that actually quantify the scale of impact by deer on lowland agriculture and forestry interests or conservation habitats are scarce. This review attempts to draw together such objective data as are available to assess more formally the actual impact of deer damage in these different contexts and the economic significance of damage caused. The review concludes with a brief consideration of implications for management.

The majority of agricultural damage reported in England and Wales was due to Fallow, Red and Roe Deer; Muntjac were only implicated in a little horticultural damage where they are numerous. Most reports were of damage to pasture or cereals, with oilseed rape, nursery and orchard crops also frequently damaged. Because of fundamental differences in ecology and distribution, different species of deer were implicated in different types of damage, depending on feeding habit and distribution in relation to geographical patterns of crop-type. In a woodland context, Fallow, Red and Roe Deer were implicated in the majority of reported damage in lowland UK, which is most frequent in the north of England and lowest in Wales. Despite the apparent severity of damage caused to agriculture or forestry, the actual economic significance of such damage would appear in many cases to be negligible or small. Field crops frequently recover completely from such damage, and although woodland crops may be checked and quality of the timber may be reduced as a consequence of earlier browsing damage, losses may be far less than they first appear. This whole question of the true economic cost of deer damage needs further research.

Deer damage to conservation habitats in England and Wales appears largely restricted to woodland; impact on heathlands, grasslands and wetlands is generally welcomed as helping to arrest invasion of scrub. Within woodlands, while concern is expressed in a small number of cases over losses of sensitive ground flora or suppression of natural regeneration, the major problem is in damage to coppice regrowth on sites where coppice management has been recently reintroduced.