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Shoot deer and eat them, say scientists
8:50am Thursday 7th March 2013 in Farming News
Nearly half of the UK's deer population needs to be shot each year to stop devastation of woodlands and birdlife, according to a study published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) commented that any cull must be carried out in a humane and controlled way and be supported by "strong science".
The deer population is currently estimated at around 1.5 million.
The researchers from the University of East Anglia suggest creating a venison market to make a cull ethically and economically acceptable.
There are now more deer in the UK than at any time since the last Ice Age. Britain has a total of six deer species, four of which were introduced since Norman times. The most recent newcomer is the Chinese water deer, which became established in the wild in the 1920s.
Dr Paul Dolman, ecologist at the University of East Anglia and lead author, said: "We know deer are eating out the... vegetation of important woodlands, including ancient woodlands.
"Deer are implicated as the major cause of unfavourable conditions in terms of woodland structure and regeneration," he told the BBC.
"There is evidence that deer reduce the number of woodland birds - especially some of our much loved migrant birds species like Blackcap and Nightingale, and resident species like Willow Tip. We have a problem."
Dr Dolman said: "We are not killing something and then incinerating the carcass - what we are talking about is harvesting a wild animal to supply wild free-ranging venison for our tables - for farm shops, for gastro pubs.
"What we are advocating isn't removing deer from the countryside - what we are advocating is trying to get on top of the deer population explosion and try to control the problems that are being caused.
"And in a way, [venison] provides a sustainable food source where you know where it comes from, you know it is ethically sourced, you know it is safe to eat, and that puts food on people's tables. As much as I love deer, to be a meat eater but then to object to the culling and harvesting of deer seems to be inconsistent."
The RSPCA said it was "opposed in principle to the killing or taking of all wild animals unless there is strong science to support it, or evidence that alternatives are not appropriate.
"Even if a cull is supported by science, it is very important that it is carried out in a humane and controlled way.
"Any decision to carry out a cull must be taken on a case by case basis based on the specific issues which impact a specific area. We don't believe this should be rolled out in a uniform way across the whole country. It is certainly not a case of one size fits all."