When properly managed there are many positive aspects to the presence of wild deer, these may include public enjoyment, wildlife tourism, stalking and the supply of true wild venison, a healthy and environmentally friendly meat. All this in addition to the environmental benefit that low density deer grazing brings to woodland biodiversity.
What sort of value can wild deer bring to rural economies?
All too often deer are merely thought of in terms of what a land owner might sell stalking rights for, around £ 2.00 – £ 3.00 per acre, sometimes much more – £ 28.00 an acre in the south of England. Or what a carcase might fetch at the game dealers, around £ 2.25 – £ 3.00 per kg. However their economic worth extends well beyond this. A study from Scotland where there are around 800,000 deer claims that they annually generate around £ 105 million in relation to deer stalking and contribute towards £ 138 million of wildlife tourism. This compares very favourably to the £ 10 thousand cost of deer damage to agriculture there. But it is not just Scotland that benefits in this way. Research from the west of England also took into account both the positive and negative impacts of deer.
So what are these negative impacts? Agriculture
A five year study by Defra “Quantifying the damage wild deer cause to agricultural crops and pastures” revealed that many farmers believed that the “damage caused by deer causes significant economic loss”. This research reveals however that “Scientific studies to quantify the actual (rather than perceived) levels of damage, have been either inconclusive or shown that the damage in relatively insignificant.” Exclosure cages were set up in growing crops which variously prevented access by deer and lagomorphs (Hares & Rabbits) and soil fertility was assessed. Their conclusion was that “The results from the exclosure trial studies showed only one highly statistically significant reduction in yield which was due to lagomorphs only (and not deer).These studies clearly demonstrated that any impact of the foraging behaviour of wild deer on agricultural crops is insignificant in comparison with the variation in yield due to soil fertility levels. “ A study from the East of England where deer are at damagingly high densities claims that “The agricultural damage can be highly localised, even within single farms, particularly when it involves high value crops” In common with domestic livestock wild deer may be afflicted by ailments but Defra have stated that “The evidence available so far suggests that deer are unlikely to be a significant source of spread for the main livestock diseases, although the monitoring in deer has been low”.
Deer Vehicle Collisions (DVC’s)
Many mainland areas have problems with DVC’s but these are most prevalent where there are not just high density deer populations but also high volumes of traffic and a high concentration of roads, a good local example of such an area is the M3 – M27 interchange outside Southampton. Fortunately on the Isle of Wight we do not have the requisite high numbers of deer, high traffic volumes and trunk roads or motorways so here at least DVC’s are comparatively insignificant.
So after taking these negative economic impacts into account can it still be financially beneficial to have deer present?
Even after taking into account these negative impacts the Exmoor study put an overall net value on wild deer to the local community at £ 3.2 million per annum, equivalent to £ 1089 per deer with stags being the most valuable at £ 3750 per head.
Are there some examples of how this might benefit the Isle of Wight?
Tourism is one of the most significant sectors of the island’s economy, according to the Isle of Wight Council generating in the region of £ 500 million gross income, by way of contrast Natural England state that “Woodland on the Island is generally under-managed and timber production is a marginal activity as the value of the timber is low and transport to the mainland is expensive.”
It would appear that deer related tourism would be a way of adding value to these woodlands, as well as the doubtless benefit that the light grazing of a low density deer population can bring.
Some tourist attractions such as the Isle of Wight Steam Railway have already appreciated that deer are of interest to visitors urging them to “Settle back in beautifully restored Victorian and Edwardian carriages and discover an idyllic view of the Island’s unspoilt countryside. Keep an eye out for a red squirrel or deer darting away from the train as you pass through ancient woodland, and watch for a solitary kestrel perched on a fence post seeking its prey as the train ambles through open farmland and sweeping downland!”
So what steps need to be taken so that the Isle of Wight can enjoy the rewarding presence of deer?
It cannot be taken for granted that deer will be profitable for our island community, this requires a positive attitude by landowners and managers combined with the appropriate skills. A properly conceived “Best Practice” based management plan and a deer management group have a valuable role to play in this, not only by helping to keep deer at the modest densities known to be beneficial but also by assisting to minimise any adverse localised impacts such as those on agriculture and to sensitive environments. The economic benefits of wild deer have not been widely researched, however the available evidence suggests that competently managed deer can have a very substantial positive impact on tourist based economies such as ours.
If you have seen some deer on the island please take part in the Isle of Wight Deer Survey locations will be treated with strictest confidence. For periodic updates please visit Isle of Wight Deer Conservation or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your interest and support
For photos of deer on the Isle of Wight please see the Isle of Wight Deer Album
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