Forget foxes, Bambi’s the new urban menace
We usually think of deer as shy, wary creatures — hiding away in our woods and forests. But not any more. These extraordinary pictures show a very different side to these beautiful animals. every night, herds of wild deer sneak into cities and towns under cover of darkness — and hold real-life stag parties. as we sleep, they wander along our High streets and leafy avenues, and feed in our gardens.
a few deer have always been present around the urban fringe. But their regular appearance in towns and cities is new. and it’s down to a huge rise in the uK deer population — which has more than doubled since the seventies, to reach two million animals.
The reason is the absence of natural predators, a reduction in hunting and shooting of deer and the fact that they are stupendously fertile and brilliantly opportunistic. They have also benefited from a change in agricultural practices such as increased planting of winter crops and more woodland cover.
The london Wildlife Trust lists sightings in boroughs including Havering, Redbridge, Croydon, Hillingdon, Harrow, Kingston and sutton, and more.
Deer are now established in Bristol, Manchester and southampton, according to the Deer Initiative, a charity set up to manage the deer population.
They have also been found in Brighton, Taunton, Walsall, Milton Keynes, sheffield, and even Glasgow.
The two main species coming into our towns and suburbs are fallow deer, which have impressive antlers and a spotted coat, and roe deer, which are smaller, with short-pronged antlers.
Many will say they add to the enjoyment of city life, bringing a beautiful animal once seldom seen by city dwellers to their doorstep. But it’s a real problem.
The Deer Initiative estimates between 42,000 and 74,000 road accidents annually involve collisions with deer. and it’s not just the deer that are harmed — the accidents lead to 10 to 20 human fatalities a year.
DEER also cause devastating damage to precious woodland, moorland habitats, and some of our best-loved wild creatures.
Naturalist Dominic Couzens, author of the definitive field guide, Britain’s Mammals, says: ‘Few wild animals deserve our sympathies less than deer. They look attractive, but are incredibly destructive to sensitive habitats and species.’
Perhaps the most destructive is the muntjac — the smallest of Britain’s six species. The size of a cocker spaniel, muntjacs were brought here from China in the Victorian era, for parks and stately homes.
But they soon escaped, and are now common across east anglia and south-east england, and have spread to Wales and scotland. Muntjacs look cute — a cross between a terrier and a hare — but feed by browsing the undergrowth of our ancient woodlands.
This doesn’t just threaten precious wild flowers, such as bluebells, orchids and oxlips; it also destroys scrubby vegetation where nightingales make their nests. as a result, nightingales are in real trouble: since 1967, numbers are down by more than 90 per cent — there are fewer than 7,000 singing males in the whole country. and it’s not just nightingales — ground-nesting woodland birds such as the willow warbler and wood warbler are also likely to suffer.
One muntjac can strip a rose bush of its buds in minutes, and make short work of any flowerbed.
In 2010 it was given the wildlife equivalent of an asbo, named — along with the Chinese mitten crab and Russian zebra mussel — as one of the top six most dangerous invasive animals in Britain.
What’s the solution? some conservationists have suggested reintroducing a top predator, such as the lynx: a medium-sized cat that’s not been wild in Britain in almost 2,000 years. These shy, woodland creatures prey on small-to-medium- sized deer, so would be perfect for keeping roe deer and muntjacs in check.
Culling is another option. In deer parks nationwide, animals are regularly killed to reduce numbers.
But for a long-term solution, we need to eat more of them — and create a market so more are shot.
Venison — the flesh of any deer — is one of the healthiest meats. It’s low in cholesterol, high in vitamins and minerals, and tasty, too.
If more people picked venison as the ultimate free-range alternative to beef, perhaps we could keep the deer population in check. That might help us to save the nightingale.
Lively residents for this place: A family settled in this East Sussex graveyard — snacking on mourners’ flowers
I’m sure we parked it here: This herd of stags look bemused as they wandered onto an estate in Brentwood
No camouflage: Trying to hide in a park... oh deer!
On the hoof: Red deer in the West Midlands