Six species of deer live wild in Britain today: our native red and roe deer, and four introduced species - fallow, sika, muntjac and chinese water deer.
In total we have around one million deer in Britain. Most species are increasing in numbers and range, notably in lowland regions.
Deer live mainly in woodland but use farmland and gardens, and red deer have adapted to live on moorlands. Deer are an important part of our wildlife, and are attractive animals which people enjoy seeing in our countryside.
However, they must be managed to keep them in balance with their habitat and prevent serious damage to woodlands, trees, crops, gardens and other wildlife.
All species eat tender tree and plant shoots and leaves. Red, sika and fallow deer will peel and eat bark. Smooth- barked species such as Norway spruce, lodgepole pine, larch, ash, willow, and beech are favourites.
Male deer mark their territories and clean the velvet off their antlers by rubbing them on young trees. This can damage the bark or kill the tree.
Deer can have a substantial impact on woodland and their ecosystems. Without effective control, deer populations can rise to very high densities as they no longer have any natural predators and can find ideal habitats.
Deer damage to young trees and coppice regrowth undermines efforts to establish and regenerate woodlands, some of which are key habitats for wildlife. However, the effects of deer go further than this.
At moderate to high densities, deer are likely to alter the structure and species composition of woodland vegetation as well as reduce the abundance of some rare flowering plants.
This can affect butterfly species, invertebrates, and low growing shrubs, such as heather and bilberry, disrupting the woodland ecosystem and its biodiversity. Bark stripping can also reduce the value of any timber produced and make trees more vulnerable to disease.
Guide to recognising wild deer damage
In Britain, oak, ash, hazel, rowan and willows are usually found to be the most vulnerable broadleaved species and most likely to be damaged by deer.
Impacts also vary depending on the species of deer. Aspen, for example, is usually avoided by fallow deer and alder is not normally susceptible to roe deer. Red deer, in contrast, have an impact on both of these species.
Deer populations need to be in the range of 4–7 per square kilometre in the uplands to ensure adequate regeneration and maintain plant diversity.
Diversity of young trees and shrubs is likely to be greatest with a low density of deer present than either none at all or too many.
Fencing alone will not achieve this and should not be seen as the sole solution to deer impact management. Reducing deer populations through co-ordinated deer management is most likely to be effective.
Preventing mammal damage to trees and woodlands