This news story is now over a year old and information may no longer be accurate or up-to-date. It might also contain obsolete links.
Please use our search link on the left to look for more recent information.
The countdown to Christmas has already begun which normally means the arrival of icy mornings. But these unusually mild daybreaks come as a welcome surprise for me, as I head out to the New Forest at 5.30am. At this time I think the forest looks its best and I’m able to be close to nature and manage wildlife hands on.
The Forestry Commission is now about a month into the deer management season, so my days are spent out in the forest with fellow Keeper Ian Young, walking the area in search of deer. Six species of deer live wild in Britain today and five of those roam freely in the New Forest; fallow (the largest deer population here), red, sika, roe and muntjac. We count the deer each spring and from this adjust our population estimate for the summer. This year we think there were almost 2,500 deer.
There are no natural predators to control deer numbers anymore so, as one of the Forestry Commission’s Keepers, it’s my job to ensure that there’s a balance between having healthy deer living in the New Forest and controlling the population as humanely as possible to prevent damage to woodland and wildlife. Whilst an important part of our forest, too many deer can cause harm to trees, wildlife habitats, crops and woodland flora, and also cause traffic accidents.
Deer management is a team effort and Ian and I are both fully trained to carry out culling safely and humanely. By the end of each winter, there will normally be around 1,300 deer in the forest. The deer that we cull do not go to waste and are taken back to the Forestry Commission’s larder and prepared for local and national game dealers to sell the venison as a sustainable forest product. In the last ten years or so, venison has grown in popularity. Once seen as a luxury, it is becoming available more and more on local menus, thanks to celebrity chefs showcasing the meat. Fallow, roe and red deer are particularly favourable in the local area.
For more information about deer and the New Forest, visit www.forestry.gov.uk/newforest. You’ll also find information on our website about future events including ‘A Christmas Wonderland’ on Saturday 10 December.
Maarten Ledeboer, New Forest Keeper