Deer in Rockingham Forest
Dealing with the deer problem
with contributions by David Hooton and Wendy Brooks
On the previous page we described the real problems caused by too many deer roaming wild in Rockingham Forest, problems for the landscape, for biodiversity and for people. On this page we describe some of the methods that are being used locally to address those problems.
We describe managing where deer are able to browse, primarily by the use of fencing, and by controlling the population size by means of culling. Finally we address the issue of helping to create a market for deer products that are the result of culling.
Reeve's Muntjac buck. Photo: Bob Bullock
Two Fallow deer. Photo Richard Chandler
About the deer
The problems they cause
Dealing with the problems
Protecting trees from deer
Across Rockingham Forest fencing is used to exclude deer from recently planted areas, allowing young trees, shrubs and other plants to establish. However deer fencing is expensive and electric fencing needs constant management.
Typical cost for deer fencing erected by a contractor could be £12 - £15 per metre. So for a 1 hectare square plot that amounts to at least £5000, but for an irregularly shaped plot of the same area it could cost double that. However, there are grants available under the new Countryside Stewardship scheme. (As of November 2023 the available grant is £10.27 per metre)
Of course there are other disadvantages of using fencing. If deer are successfully excluded from large areas of habitat it increases the browsing pressure on woodland and crops outside the fence-line. A good fence will last for years but needs regular checking and repair - if a single deer does get inside it can cause carnage very quickly!
Once a fence has served its purpose there is considerable cost in removing it and finding an appropriate recycling solution.
A muntjac doe. Photo Richard Chandler
On the Bulwick Estate a temporary (and much cheaper) alternative fencing method is being employed. This consists of panels of Heras security fencing used to surround small glades that have been coppiced within the wider Ancient Woodland areas. The panels can be re-used when regeneration is established within the exclosures.
An alternative to deer fencing is the use of plastic tree guards. These are such a standard feature of our landscape that you might not even notice them anymore. They are a proven way of reducing deer damage to trees in their first few years of life, though the correct height tube needs to be used to protect against the deer species present. Just like deer fencing tree guards need to be removed and recycled when the tree gets bigger, after which it will again be vulnerable to deer damage.
Plastic-free tree guards which can biodegrade are being researched by the Woodland Trust .
Tree guards used by Forestry England in Fineshade Wood.
2 metre tubes were used to protect a new planting of native hardwood trees, including Wild Cherry as shown here. After 4-5 years many of the tubes were removed and taken away for reuse or recycling. By contrast the third picture shows 1.2 metre tubes, used decades ago to protect Oaks. They remain in place despoiling the woodland.
This picture shows new planting on an estate where very small tubes were employed with no fencing. The boundary was also hand-sprayed with the deer repellant Trico. This is a solution derived from sheep's wool, which is having some success in deterring deer from browsing trees. There is a review of the product here.
Scent repellant is just one of the alternatives emerging that may avoid the need for expensive and unsightly fencing. This webpage, claiming to be the "Ultimate Guide to UK Deer Fences", details and assesses ten alternatives to deer fencing
Culling deer by shooting
In the absence of natural predators it falls to people to manage the ever-growing deer populations, but this needs to be done with care, with respect and guided by scientific knowledge and research. Culling is planned to replicate the impact of natural predation, taking into account a number of factors and methods to ensure deer populations remain healthy and in balance with their environment.
Throughout Rockingham Forest, many land managers, farmers and estates are actively involved in the cull, managing deer numbers on their land by employing deer stalkers, who use high-velocity rifles to shoot deer. Most people will never be aware of it happening, because it takes place very early in the morning or late in the evening. Stalkers will often take up positions under cover of darkness, but night shooting is illegal except under licence from Natural England. Permission for this is only issued when more traditional methods have failed and when significant impacts are continuing to occur.
Deer stalkers often use "high seats" which can be seen right across Rockingham Forest. These are positioned to provide safe shots in areas where deer are likely to be moving or feeding. There are all sorts of designs (and levels of comfort!). They can cost from £140 for a basic light-weight model up to around £1000 for a box-type version.
Shooting deer is clearly a potentially dangerous thing to do, and not just for the deer! Deer stalking is very strictly controlled by legislation and there is a useful summary of recognised best practice on these guides produced by the Deer Initiative.
Everything is regulated closely including the firearms used, who can carry it out, when it cannot be done, public safety, humane dispatch, carcass handling and hygiene.
What is it like to be a deer stalker? We asked someone who regularly shoots deer in the forest what motivates them and they have produced a fascinating blog article that you can read here.
Contraception has also been tried as a means of reducing the deer population. To date it seems unsuitable for use in the wider landscape, so for now we continue to rely on shooting to keep deer numbers under some sort of control.
Establishing a market for deer products
A product of managing deer by shooting is venison and in the UK this is one of the most sustainable and affordable meats you can buy. It is considered one of the healthiest red meats because it is high in protein, iron, and vitamin B, but extremely low in fat. Eating locally sourced wild venison is a key way people can help support the humane management of deer and fortunately it is readily available at the heart of Rockingham Forest.
Visit the Blatherwycke estate's website where you can order ready-to-cook wild venison. The order then needs to be collected from the game larder at Alders Farm, just off the King's Cliffe-Blatherwycke road. As well as various joints for roasting and meat for stews, they also sell sausages and burgers. Their minced venison is just great for spag-bol and is much cheaper than minced beef! If you are a meat eater and live locally it really is well worth a try.
There are loads of recipes for venison online and there is a recommended article by chef Mike Robinson who particularly likes venison from Fallow Deer (as supplied by Blatherwycke) - it is said that fallow meat does not have the strong gamey flavour of meat from Red Deer. Many supermarkets do not stock venison and, of those that do, it has often been sourced from Red Deer farms in New Zealand, rather than using the wild supply that we have right here.
A national working group has been established, chaired by the Forestry Commission, to support the expansion of the British wild venison market. This is supported by the development of a British Wild Venison Standard that will provide increased confidence to the wild venison supply chain. ( See British Quality Wild Venison - Quality assurance for British Wild Venison. )
Other deer products
Our ancestors hunted deer not only for food but also for their skins. Some UK deer farmers produce clothes, shoes and rugs from deerskin. The rug pictured is available from Rutting Reds who farm a herd of over one hundred Red Deer on a deer park south of Kettering. Perhaps the skins of wild deer could be used in a similar way.
Nearer to home, a local gamekeeper uses Fallow Deer antlers to produce dog chews as shown here. Search online and you can find UK companies specialising in creating treats and food for dogs from wild deer, but there is currently no such production in Rockingham Forest.
Deer management is an essential part of landscape management, and whilst culling is always likely to be an emotive issue, the right balance needs to be found to help manage our important woodlands and create more places for wildlife and people to enjoy. Developing markets for the products of deer culling will help to ensure that delicate balance
More reading and viewing
An article by the BBC Countryfile team
By Sian Anna Lewis and Kevin Parr
Forestry Commission Blog
by Ian Tubby
30-minute presentation, part of a Continuous Cover Forestry Group webinar
by David Hooton (July 2022)
Short video produced for the County Lamdowners Association
by David Hooton (Jan 2021)
Webinar explaining funding for deer management
Foresty Commission (Jan 2023)
Webinar by the British Deer Socity
Includes presentation by David Hooton (2020)
Carried out in 2022 and awaiting goverenment reponse
1-year-old dark-coloured Fallow buck in October
Photo: Bob Bullock
Muntjac Deer buck. Photo Richard Chandler