Identifying threshold densities for wild deer in the UK above which negative impacts may occur



  • 1At high densities, deer populations may have adverse effects upon and within their environment. In this review we explore published and unpublished information to derive density thresholds for deer species in relation to impacts upon agriculture, forestry, conservation habitats, road traffic, and human and livestock health in the UK. Impact levels are affected by many factors other than absolute density. We therefore seek to establish the range of densities within which negative impacts might start to occur and which should trigger objective monitoring of actual impacts.
  • 2In commercial forestry, a threshold of 4 deer per 100ha has been suggested. Unfenced native woodlands seem to regenerate naturally if there are fewer than 4–5 large deer or fewer than 25 roe deer Capreolus capreolus per 100ha; open habitats may suffer only light or moderate impacts from red deer Cervus elaphus at landscape densities of 7–8 per 100ha.
  • 3Woodland bird species may have declined where deer densities are high but absolute thresholds seem impossible to establish. One study suggests maximum diversity at about 8 white-tailed deer Odocoileus virginianus per 100ha.
  • 4Deer–vehicle collisions are affected by various factors in addition to deer density, but British and American studies suggest that accident frequencies decline at densities below 7–8 per 100ha.
  • 5Fallow deer Dama dama populations may maintain bovine TB (bTB) infection at much lower densities (25/100ha) than red or roe deer (91/100ha and 200/100ha, respectively) assuming 100% prevalence. Even at 30% prevalence a density of 75 fallow deer per 100ha could maintain bTB within the population.
  • 6We conclude that deer density alone is unlikely to be a good predictor of impact, and suggest that long-term management should be based on assessment both of actual impacts and apparent density of deer.