Guest blog – Peter Watson, the Deer Initiative

Just before Christmas I was sat in the Head Office of the Deer Initiative when I was made aware of a deer vehicle collision involving James “Arg” Argent, star of The Only Way is Essex, just outside of Dundee. In doing so Arg and his companions joined a group of between 42000 and 74000 vehicles that are involved in incidents with deer on the road every year, a group which also includes Mark Avery. This is a statistic which newspapers jumped on in October last year causing a rush of phone calls to our office. However, by reacting to media interest instead of instigating it we are unable to control the timing and content message we would like to put out.

Apart from  the impact on high profile ‘celebrities’ the distress for drivers and the welfare issues for the deer and all the other wildlife killed and maimed on our roads are to my mind mean we should be taking this issue seriously. You might expect that Government , the insurance industry or drivers’ organisations would be funding work to look into reducing the carnage but sadly since wild deer belong to nobody it is easy to deny responsibility.  We know the scale of the problem, we even know the worst sections of road for accidents to occur but how do we best get the message to politicians, officials drivers and the insurance industry that we should be doing something about this issue?

So in an attempt to get the ball rolling, Mark has kindly allowed me to write this guest blog.

Firstly I would ask that you follow our new twitter account @Deer_Aware.  Secondly please have a look and pay particular attention to the times of year i.e. Autumn and Late spring (rutting seasons), and hours in the day you would expect to see deer i.e. dawn and dusk.

But, you ask, why should I be bothered about deer vehicle collisions? Studies have suggested that deer related accidents do £17m worth of damage each year with 425-700 deer vehicle collisions result in personal injuries in the UK every year and tragically 15-20 result in fatalities, for further information please look at the publication section of the Deer Aware website.  In July 2011 four deaths due to deer on roads were reported making it the worst month on record which is somewhat surprising as it is not a peak month. As the deer population in the UK expands it is expected that deer vehicle collisions will continue to increase.

Much has been made in newspaper articles about the size of the deer population in the UK being bigger than at any time since the last ice age. Opinions on this vary, some see it as a massive win for conservation especially for our native species Red and Roe deer, others see them as an ever increasing burden on SSSIs whilst a number of people believe there is a real problem with non-native species such as Muntjac and Sika. Whatever the twist placed on the particular story the safety message we wish to be passed on are often buried. So with this in mind here are the key messages we would like to put across to you:
1. Be watchful- especially during peak months (May, October and November) and in areas with large deer population. The sighting of one deer is usually an indicator that there is a larger number in the locality.
2. It is more important to be in control of your vehicle than it is to avoid the deer- swerving can sometimes lead to worse damage than hitting the deer.
3. If you do hit a deer report it- the reporting of Deer Vehicle Collisions at will provide data which can be used to generate reports.

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10 Replies to “Guest blog – Peter Watson, the Deer Initiative”

  1. Two comments, Peter.

    'High Profile celebrities' - who are they, never heard of this one and if the only way is Essex what is he doing in Scotland.

    I am slight;ly surprised that this article hasn't taken a look at the numbers in Conservation terms. I know it is controversial but in North Wilts the numbers and species of deer now seen out in the open has increased considerably so how many are hidden. Whilst opposed to culling for cullings sake I would think we either have to reintroduce the wolves or more appropriately bring the numbers down to a slightly lower level to allow woodland some breathing space.

  2. Our scheme to regenerate the Pennines by removing sheep is having problems due to the number of Roe Deer. Some culling is being done but a much harder hit has to happen if we want to see the real success of this scheme. Not only is the grazing the problem but the expansion of tick and tick diseases. Geltsdale already has limes disease present but any bird watcher or walker visiting the area sees no signs warning them of the danger. So the number of people killed or injured in a car can be increased by the number given such awful side effects of a disease widely advertised in the USA in most wildlife parks.

  3. I suspect Peter has latched on to road accidents because this is the most visible impact increasing deer numbers have on our urban society. They nalso have a massive impact on both conservation and forestry - for the same reason, they eat the trees and ground flora and eliminate the ground layer & understorey: when Oxford University fenced in the Fallow herd at Wytham Woods their accidental experiment totally eliminated shrub layer birds. The science tells us that deer browsing is the second most important reason after lack of management for the decline in woodland birds and I suspect mammal damage is the biggest sinlge variable in forestry planting costs - because of the need to use tree tubes. This year will be particularly important for the progress of woodland birds because the BTO is running a Nightingale census and Nightingale, because it needs the thickest of thicket possible, could well be the most sensitive indicator of the impacts of both lack of management and deer.

  4. In the past 3 years there have been at least 4 otters killed on the roads in my village and these are just the ones I know about. All have been killed in different locations . The problem is not too many otters but too many people, too many cars and too many non essential car journeys. Maybe we need a cull of cars, not deer!!

  5. Bring back wolves would be my suggestion. It would certainly inject a bit of added adrenaline to those nightingale surveys in the moon lit woods at night!

    1. There's some really interesting research on wolves, deer and woodland regeneration. It suggests that where there are wolves deer tend no to browse the woodland edge so much as they are open to being killed. This allows woodland to spread. This would also occur with lynx that pounce on prey in the open from cover.

      This suggest that predators such as wolves not only controlled deer but also modified their behavior in ways that impact on the ecosystem.

      1. here it is : Ripple, W.J., Beschta, R.L., 2006b. Linking wolves to willows via risk-sensitive
        foraging by ungulates in the northern Yellowstone ecosystem. Forest Ecology
        and Management 230, 96–106

  6. With regards to allowing woodland breathing space. I have a small area of woodland which I coppice. Rather than either shoot the deer or fence it which would be impractical. I simply disperse the deer by walking my dogs round occasionally. They are only collie dogs and sometimes they briefly chase the deer however deer are massive animals and to be honest iof their is a confrontation I'd far rather a big stag with massive antlers to be running in the opposite direction.

    The police tell me that this is now illegal unless I shoot the deer. Surely this is mad?

    I am not against culling deer but don;t want to personally and I don't see why I should when I can just disperse them.


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