Today the shooting season begins for female red, roe, fallow and sika deer in Scotland. The season begins ten days later in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For male deer, the season is months away.
Deer are gorgeous. I like to see them and I like to eat them. I’ve never held a gun in my life; never wanted to. But some people in Britain stalk deer for pest control or for fun. Others farm deer for profit or for amenity.
The red deer (Cervus elephus) is native to the British Isles. It’s our largest land mammal. Its natural enemies have been hunted to extinction by humans, leaving red deer to breed without predation. That can cause problems for agriculture and for forestry
What should be done? Red deer are being culled. Here’s a film asking whether there are too many red deer in the Scottish Highlands now, and therefore whether it’s right to cull them.
The roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) is our other native deer species. Here’s a film about watching roe and other deer. Like the red deer, the roe deer breeds freely now that its natural predators have been hunted to extinction. Therefore like red deer populations, roe deer populations are managed.
The fallow deer (Dama dama) is the one with white spots and, on bucks (males), palmate (flattened) antlers. It’s not truly a native species because it went extinct here during the last Ice Age but then got reintroduced. Here’s a film about how William the Conqueror had forests planted so that he could hunt fallow deer. The conditions suit it well. It’s now widespread and common. But guess what? Natural predators are gone so humans cull fallow deer.
The sika deer (Cervus nippon) is an Asian species. It was introduced in the 19th century, escaped and became naturalised. Here’s a film about noisy, smelly sika deer. It’s a strong swimmer, too. It doesn’t have natural predators in Britain so it’s the fourth of our deer species which get shot in season, starting today.
All this deer culling sheds a different light on the culling of badgers (Meles meles), doesn’t it? I don’t approve of the badger cull, as I’ve written under my ‘badger’ tag. But my disapproval isn’t because the badger is an appealing animal. Deer are appealing too. The evidence suggests that badgers are not responsible for tuberculosis (TB) in cattle, so I think culling them is pointless. Whereas deer damage crops and trees by eating them. Also, venison is good eating.
It’s worth considering that a skilled shooter knows how to kill cleanly. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) offers a code of practice for deer stalking. The British Deer Society (BDS) offers deer stalking certificates. People who want to stalk deer in Britain can hire qualified guides. If you’d like to know more, you can look at the Deer Stalking Directory.
With all this shooting of wild and naturalised deer, you might think we’d have plenty of meat. But in fact there’s demand for more venison. Farmers are developing commercial deer farms. The British Deer Farms and Parks Association and the Scottish Venison Partnership promote the industry.
Whether you shoot deer, or buy venison from wild or farmed deer, you’re getting a tasty and nutritious meat. Here are some venison recipes.