Carelessness costs deer lives

It is a shocking fact that around twenty deer in the Park are killed each year through human carelessness.

Most visitors have seen for themselves the problems created by speeding cars and out-of-control dogs. But how many of us realise that the never-ending tide of litter discarded in the Park `– wrappings, dog waste bags, crisp packets and the like – is also a cause of deer fatalities?

In the article below, first published in the Friends’ newsletter, our chairman Ron Crompton sets out some unpalatable facts about deer deaths in the Park. The photo shows John Bartram, one of the Park’s wildlife officers, holding up the contents of the stomachs of two deer killed by ingesting litter.

Deer and humans

Collisions with deer kill 15 to 20 UK motorists a year and injure 1,800, according to a recent article in the Evening Standard. The article gave advice on how to avoid a collision (for example, “Keep back from the car in front; fatalities often result from deer thrown up by other traffic…”), but did not say how deer should avoid collisions, or how many deer are killed or injured. Indeed, it said very little about the deer.

There are now 700,000 wild deer in the UK and the population is growing very rapidly — the article says that “without intervention” it grows at 30% a year — so the conflict with humans can only get worse. October and November are the riskiest months because of the rutting season when deer move around more and nights are closing in.

The Park’s deer population is controlled in a yearly cull, and is stable at 630.But we humans still manage to kill a fair number through collisions with cars, out-of-control dogs, and litter. Some 5-10 Park deer a year are killed by cars; this has halved since 2004 when the speed limit was reduced from 30 to 20 mph, but don’t usually stop so only examination of the deer shows it has been hit by a car.

Uncontrolled dogs kill 6 or so deer a year, mainly baby deer in their first weeks, left in the undergrowth while their mothers graze nearby. A dog comes across a baby deer, the deer tries to flee, the dog automatically chases it, the deer cannot run fast enough to escape, and the dog brings it down. Occasionally a dog will chase a herd and maul a fully-grown deer, which then has to be destroyed.

Litter kills around 5 deer a year. This is a guess, based on the post-mortems done when deer die unexpectedly. The photograph  shows John Bartram, one of the Park’s wildlife officers responsible for the welfare of the herd, holding up the stomach contents of two deer that died from litter. They include rope and string, black dog-waste bags, other plastics, and parts of clothing — all material that deer cannot digest. These deer died slow, agonising deaths from starvation. Deer, much like goats, will eat anything, which helps them survive in the wild but can be disastrous when humans are around.

So we Park-users kill around 20 deer a year in painful deaths, not the painless, sudden shot to the head of the cull. Simple arithmetic says that a Park deer has a 1 in 30 chance of being killed by humans – and no humans die in return. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?