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Wildlife expert fears report could encourage unnecessary culling of red deer in Westcountry

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: March 11, 2013

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A leading Westcountry wildlife expert has described headlines concerning a mass deer cull as "unhelpful", writes Martin Hesp.

Dr Jochen Langbein – who yesterday was helping to organise the annual Quantock deer-count – has amassed a vast knowledge in populations of the wild mammal through his long-term work studying traffic incidents involving deer.

"It is vital to assess deer management locally. Good deer management doesn't make headlines," he said. "The University of East Anglia report which came out last week is totally invalid when it comes to red deer, which can't tolerate anywhere near a 50 per cent cull rate – even a 30 per cent cull would be harmful," added Dr Langbein, referring to the fact that the indigenous red deer forms the largest populations in areas of the Westcountry.

"That study is entirely based in one area and considers roe and muntjac only," he explained. "Unlike our other species, roe regularly have twins and often triplets and muntjac breed a-seasonally, so are able to produce young year-round. This is very different from red and fallow deer where twins are very rare."

And Dr Langbein fears that media reports adapted from the East Anglia study to apply nationally could harm wild deer populations in places like the Westcountry.

"There is a danger that people might use stories like this as a justification for culling," he told the WMN. "But it should not be about these global figures – in my view findings from this single study cannot be extrapolated to the whole of the UK. Therefore, suggesting a cull of 750,000 annually is not valid."

"In the South East and Eastern counties they have high numbers of muntjac as well as roe – whereas we have much smaller numbers of these deer in the South West.

"For example, the first muntjac were seen on the Quantocks around 20 years ago. If you'd asked me then whether or not their numbers would multiply, I'd have said 'yes'. But I'd have been wrong.

I am not clear why, but neither muntjac nor roe deer have taken over in the Westcountry hills," said Dr Langbein. "However, the Westcountry has a fairly high red and fallow deer population – but there is no sign of it increasing. On the Quantocks we have 70 per cent as many as we had five years ago. We are now counting barely 500 red deer in the hills – and we were regularly counting 700 or 800.

"I will be amazed if we count more on Sunday," he said, as he prepared for the annual deer count in which around 60 volunteers spread across the Quantocks in the early morning to count as many deer as they can. Last year was one of the only occasions the count failed since its inception in 1993 (thanks to thick fog), but in 2011, 537 deer were recorded. The highest count was in 2005 when Quantock deer totalled 958.

Nevertheless, there are a great many wild deer in the UK as Dr Langbein's eight year long study suggests.

It was his report that found that more than 42,000 deer are involved in collisions with motor vehicles each year – but it also points out this could rise to as many 74,000. Between 400 to 700 of the incidents result in human injuries.

"Deer management needs to be assessed in relation to the habitat. If you had 800 deer on the Quantocks, for example, that really isn't a problem," he said."

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