Brits need to take up arms and shoot* half of Blighty's deer population in a war to save the countryside from destruction.
There are more Bambi-like creatures in need of shooting than ever before in the UK, we're told, and their numbers have reached heights not scaled since the last Ice Age. With no natural predators, the deer are totally out of control and the usual methods of keeping them in check aren't working, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia.
“In recent years people have become more and more concerned about the impacts deer are having in North America, Britain and elsewhere in Europe. Increasing deer populations are a serious threat to biodiversity – particularly impacting on woodland birds such as migrant warblers and the nightingale," the uni's Dr Kristin Wäber warned.
“They also carry diseases such as Lyme, and if numbers are not properly managed, they can cause damage to crops as well as road traffic accidents. To help control carbon emissions the government has set targets to increase wood-fuel production, but this will be hard to achieve when woodlands are under so much pressure from deer."
Enviroboffins at the university tracked numbers, sex ratio and fertility of roe** and muntjac***, a "non-native invasive species" of deer, across 234 sq km (11 milliWales) of forested land in Breckland in East Anglia. It's the first time anyone's done such a large-scale study in Europe and compared control efforts and known numbers.
The team found that management of the deer appeared to be keeping numbers stable, but that was only because the four-legged fiends were sneaking off into the surrounding countryside and actually spreading further than previously thought.
Researchers reckoned that 53 per cent of muntjac and 60 per cent of roe deer need to be wiped out instead of the previous recommendations of 30 and 20 per cent, respectively.
"Native deer are an important part of our wildlife that add beauty and excitement to the countryside, but left unchecked they threaten our woodland biodiversity. Trying to control deer without a robust understanding of their true numbers can be like sleepwalking into disaster," Dr Wäber said.
"Current approaches to deer management are failing to contain the problem – often because numbers are being underestimated. Cull targets are often too low."
Lead researcher Paul Dolman said Brits could help culling efforts by eating tasty venison steaks and burgers from their supermarket and in gastropubs.
"If we shifted part of our diet to deer it wouldn't be a bad thing," he said.
The full study, Achieving Landscape-Scale Deer Management for Biodiversity Conservation: The Need to Consider Sources and Links, was published in today's Journal of Wildlife Management. ®
* Not all Brits, of course, just the well-trained folks carefully regulated to carry out culls.