Deer are an important part of our wildlife and are attractive animals which people enjoy seeing in our countryside. However, when populations increase they can cause serious damage to woodlands, farm crops, nature reserves and even private gardens.
Six species of deer have been recorded in Lincolnshire, Red, Roe, Fallow, Muntjac and Chinese Water deer, Fallow and Muntjac being the most numerous. It is anticipated that England’s deer population will double over the next ten years!
Too many deer can cause poor health for the deer themselves if numbers are greater than the habitat can support.
The special character of Lincolnshire’s ancient woodlands is particularly vulnerable to wild deer pressures. Long-term excessive browsing of the trees, shrubs and flora can cause irretrievable damage to individual woodlands and general degradation of woodland biodiversity at the landscape scale.
For the sustainable protection of our woodlands, a balance should be achieved between desirable deer populations and healthy woodland regeneration and ground flora conditions.
Tree damage and vegetation impact‘Browsing’ – is the nibbling of the buds and shoots of newly formed growth, for food, the distinctive tearing action of the shoot stem (deer only have lower set of teeth) is clearly identifiable and different to rabbits or
hares which make a clean cut.
Deer browsing on commercially important tree crops can reduce early height increment, thereby increasing establishment costs by increasing the period for which weeding is necessary.
Browsing may also result in trees producing multiple leading shoots, which can cause economic loss by reducing timber quality.
The selective browsing of tree seedlings, coppice regrowth and herbaceous plants can result in considerable habitat damage, this is particularly important in our ancient woodlands where some plant species, once lost through browsing pressure, will never return. Loss of species such as primulas, violets and rosette plants will, in turn, have a direct impact on invertebrate species and hence the food chain.
The killing of coppice stools by continued browsing severely restricts this traditional management practice and where deer numbers are high costly fencing has to be employed.
‘Stripping’ – occurs when deer shave off tree bark with their lower teeth for food. The broad parallel teeth-marks are often clearly visible, running more or less vertically. Young thicket stage trees are often worst attacked. Excessive stripping will degrade and even kill the tree.
‘’Fraying’ – is caused by male deer rubbing their antlers (and facial scent glands) against tree stems and foliage. This is mostly a form of sexual aggression or territory marking which occurs during the build up to the rut. Fraying is recognised by the presence of hairs in and around the damage, also by accompanying broken and twisted side-branches and associated scrapes on the ground.
Fraying and thrashing with antlers is usually localised, but can cause significant damage on valuable specimen trees and small areas of young woodland. Male deer, particularly Fallow bucks are also known to thrash to pieces plastic tree shelters.
Deer damage in fields and gardens
In winter, root crops such as Swedes can be severely damaged, especially if grown close to the woodland edge. Groups of Fallow deer will also gather on winter cereals and grass.
Gardens and market gardens close to woodland will often be attractive to deer and they will seek out succulent plants to browse, they are particularly attracted to roses.
Too many deer can lead to Road Traffic Accidents