Across the UK, there are several types of deer to be found in woodlands and rural areas namely :
In recent times, the number of deer has increased and it is thought that there might be as many as two million wild deer in the UK - the highest number for many hundreds of years. Unfortunately, deer can cause substantial damage to trees and woodlands. Their feeding can cause a range of problems, which can include
- Stripping shoots, flower buds and foliage from plants
- Damage to woody stems, where a deer has bitten part way through the stem and then the shoot is tugged off - leaving a ragged end
- Eating the bark from younger trees. This mainly happens in winter when other food sources are scarce
In addition to the damage associated with their browsing / eating activities, there is also the damage done by male deer who rub their heads / antlers against the trunks of younger trees. This rubbing may be for scent marking or to remove the outer skin (velvet) present on a new set of antlers. The antler rubbing results in cuts in the bark.
Deer numbers are reduced by culling in order to supply restaurants, farm shops, and the hospitality sector with venison. However, with the onset of the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns / restrictions the demand for venison dropped significantly (as has price) so very few deer were culled. Consequently, the number of deer is increasing. Deer have probably gone through one or two breeding cycles since the first national lockdown, and numbers are set to increase. The increase in deer numbers not only affects the trees in a woodland but also plants of the herb and scrub layer. The loss of plant species and aspects of the structure of the woodland means that particular microhabitats are lost so that species such as nightingales and warblers are at risk.
Without careful management of deer numbers, woodlands could become much more ‘uniform’ as deer have no natural predators (in the UK). It is important that deer numbers are monitored as they will do significant (most) damage to woodland in Spring as there’s not much food elsewhere for them. Young trees are particularly at risk, unless they are protected.