Every six months thousands of deer are culled. Vegan Life looks into whether shooting is really the way to control deer numbers in our countryside



Habitat fragmentation, lack of natural predators, and a growing human population are just a few of the reasons so many of our wildlife species are on the decline. Bucking this trend are deer: one species which continues to breed prolifically, with many experts believing the population is at its highest in 1,000 years with 1.5 to 2 million red, roe, fallow, sika, muntjac and Chinese deer currently roaming the countryside and semi-urban areas.


Because of this, every six months thousands of wild deer are culled, amid concerns from farmers and conservationists worrying about crops and biodiversity as large numbers of roaming deer can have an adverse impact on woodland vegetation by selectively browsing on herbs, shrubs and young trees.


deer shooting culled

According to Simon Leadbeater Phd, in his paper Deer management and biodiversity in England: the efficacy and ethics of culling: “Oliver Rackham makes the case against deer; ‘the biggest…threat to woodland is browsing animals…[they] subtract much of the woodland ground vegetation, replacing it with browsing-adapted plants, especially grasses. They render coppicing impracticable. They convert a woodland ecosystem into trees plus grass with no long term future for the trees’. He goes further; ‘deer are a really serious problem… [they] affect ground vegetation, small mammals, birds and invertebrates…Nearly all the efforts are anti-conservation; they subtract features from woodland without adding features’.”


While Simons goes on to question the efficacy of traditional practices like coppicing, and whether the impact of deer is such a great threat, it is clear the popular view focusses on the havoc believed to be wreaked by deer, leading scientists to argue that culling is essential if population numbers are to be reduced. A number of organisations- the British Deer Society claim culling-by shooting-is not only necessary, but ‘humane’.


Not everyone agrees.


Lesley Dove leads the activist group Stop the Deer Cull. She has been campaigning for six years to get an alternative to culling trialled on a special licence in the Royal Parks around London, as well as Hampton Court. She says: “This [culling] is cruel and unnecessary and also causes a huge amount of stress and terror to the surviving animals. It’s time to stop Richmond and Bushy Park being hunting parks.”


But according to a Royal parks spokesman: “Without population control food would become scarce and more animals would ultimately suffer. There would also be other welfare issues such as low body fat, malnutrition, high incidence of death from exposure to cold in winter and a build-up of parasites and diseases in deer.”


However campaigners like Lesley aren’t against controlling deer population: they just want to see a genuinely humane alternative to shooting the animals. Focus needs to be on management – the alternative for many deer is a lingering death. Lesley says: “In the last few years, it’s quite exciting, there actually is an alternative. It’s called GonaCon it’s an immune-contraceptive that can be injected, darted into the deer, it’s been used in the US on various mammal species.”


deer culled shootingThis method of control would be welcome from the animals’ point of view:  evidence suggests that whilst most deer are shot, this doesn’t actually confirm a pain free death for the deer and some will not die instantly from the wound and be left to suffer. According to an ongoing survey with The British Deer Society, 88 per cent of deer are killed with one bullet-leaving a number requiring multiple gunshot wounds. Simon Leadbetter writes: “Assumptions about suffering can be made. Some wounded deer may recover, but that they must suffer in some measure is incontestable. There are then 12 per cent which required additional bullets for dispatch – suggesting at the least a greater likelihood of suffering, though both bullets may be fired in quick succession. The fortunate 88 per cent majority will probably die quite quickly, though the BDS research assumes rather than demonstrates or records this.”


The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [RSPCA] believes any cull must be carried out in a humane and controlled way and be supported by strong science. In a statement they said: “We are opposed in principle to the killing or taking of all wild animals unless there is strong science to support it, or evidence that alternatives are not appropriate. Any decision to carry out a cull must be taken on a case by case basis based on the specific area.”


But if culling is not the only available method for reducing deer numbers and there are other preventative measures that can be used-why are we yet to adopt them?


Contraception measures have proven to work for reducing numbers and halting overbreeding for hill ponies in Dartmoor. Conservationist and founder of the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association Charlotte Faulkner administered the contraceptive (Improvac) to female ponies – who according to Charlotte would have hardly felt the dart – and trimmed back their tails to mark them out. The initiative which was backed by Exmoor Pony Society and the Exmoor National Park Authority has resulted in a decrease of foals and population.


Outlined in Simon Leadbeater’s paper, Dr Jay Kirkpatrick argues the technique called immuno-contraception can ‘achieve zero population growth relatively fast but it takes some time to actually reduce the population, but it can – and has been – done.’


Furthermore, experts are in agreeance that culling is in fact not reducing deer numbers. Immuno-contraception techniques may well need perfecting, but there is evidence that they work in some circumstances and certainly their use could be explored more vigorously than at present.


In addition to contraceptive measures, alternate methods include fences which limit the deer to certain areas, deer resistant landscaping and repellents, and live relocation of some deer to areas where they are far less populated.


Deer culling facts and statistics

  • The 1963 Deer Act in England and Wales and in 1959 in Scotland prevented deer from being treated like vermin and controlled who could shoot them and how; gunshot (shotguns) was outlawed.
  • The latest survey by The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) suggests as many as 173,000 deer’s are culled in England each year.
  • The Forestry Commission reported that in the season ending March 2010 of the 11,000 deer culled on FC land, 5,000 were adult females, 4,000 males and 2,000 (gender unspecified) juveniles.



  1. Tina King on April 30, 2020 at 11:01 am

    I live in a village in Suffolk. We do not have a lot of deer so how can someone be issued with a cull contract? How can I oppose the renewal of his contract. He passed me last month dragging a dead deer and this morning was out again. I made so much noise I saw the deer running away in the distance.
    Someone please help me I need to stop this man.

  2. Gregor on December 5, 2020 at 5:40 pm

    Deer need to be culled!!! The dart isn’t effective short term. As well as this there are around 1 million deer in Scotland alone so the cost of this contraceptive would be way too much for a sector that has seen massive cuts over the years. With climate change becoming more and more of an issue we need to control the deer populations effectively, Now. Deer cause huge damage through grazing, browsing and trampling. This is especially the case on peatland habitats that provide many services to the economy and the environment. They hold a large amounts of carbon and as these habitats are very fragile deer trampling can cause detrimental damage to these bogs. Damage to these habitats causes the wet land to dry out which then leads to the release of the carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. Which increases the effects of global warming. You vegans need to chose your fights. I am not vegan myself or even vegetarian for that matter but I do agree with the vegan philosophy in some ways. But not in this case.

    The article states that shooting deer is not humane and can be a stressful death, furthermore they state 88% of deer culled are killed with one shot. Firstly getting shot in the head would possibly be the quickest way to go. Secondly how many humans have suffered through death. I believe most people would rather die through a gun shot rather than dying from a disease like cancer which can leave you in pain for years. I think deer would prefer getting shot rather than dying from malnutrition, high food competition, disease, hypothermia due to lack of food security etc. These deaths would be far more cruel than any gun shot even if it takes more than one shot. Its not just the deer themselves that will be effected but other wildlife that are effected from the deers activity/damage. Id rather die in an open field up a hill surrounded by beautiful scenery with no idea I was being targeted by a gun rather than die in a hospital stressing about the end.

    My main point is we need to reduce the population now. The best way to do this is through the shooting of deer. Anyway I should probably get back to writing my dissertation haha. Got heavy distracted. Peace out and stop hating on a necessary and important action.

    Also…… “Furthermore, experts are in agreeance that culling is in fact not reducing deer numbers. Immuno-contraception techniques may well need perfecting, but there is evidence that they work in some circumstances and certainly their use could be explored more vigorously than at present.” That is absolute nonsense hahahaha yous are chatting gobldey gook

    Alsoooooo…….. “in addition to contraceptive measures, alternate methods include fences which limit the deer to certain areas, deer resistant landscaping and repellents, and live relocation of some deer to areas where they are far less populated.” Basically yous want to take away the deer’s freedom and chemically castrate them….. Id rather be dead quitte frankly hahahhahha thats more cruel than getting shot.

  3. Jon on January 23, 2021 at 6:29 am

    What works in a deer park in the south of England isn’t necessarily going to work in the vast wildernesses of Scotland.
    Furthermore, I’d strongly challenge this idea that contraception is a more ‘humane’ method of population control. Deer have one ambition in life, almost all their waking moments are concentrated towards this one objective, and that is reproduction. Denying them that is unethical. And then what becomes of the deer? They die of old age? Have you considered what it is for a wild deer to die of old age? There is your ‘lingering death’. There is no care homes or hospices. To give you an idea; loss of mobility, slow starvation, eventual complete loss of mobility and eaten alive by carrion and foxes. Alternatively, If they are lucky they’ll be hit by a car, or get stuck in a fence. This is the reality of your ‘humane’ method of population control -Sterile deer with nothing but a miserable death awaiting them.

    I assume you’re comfortable with the idea of ‘rewilding’ and natural predators such as wolves and lynx being reintroduced as a form of population control?
    Comfortable with the predation of deer by animals, but not by humans in the meantime?
    That’s cognitive dissonance if ever I’ve seen it.
    Humans have been the pre-eminent predator of deer since we first encountered them. They have adapted to human predation.
    A bullet fired by a skilled and consummate hunter, such as we are lucky to have here in the UK, is the most natural, humane and ethical death a deer can expect.

    • Gregor on February 19, 2021 at 2:44 pm

      Agreed Jon, Agreed.

  4. Gregor on February 19, 2021 at 2:46 pm

    I am for deer shooting not against Jon. Sign me up for a bullet to the brain when its my time to go.

  5. Phil Chappell on July 30, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    Hi, I thought you might like interested in this video https://youtu.be/unQPBarVEUM
    The song has been written in support of the extension to the right to roam and against deer culling. I hope you enjoy the song / video. Phil Chappell – co-writer of This Is Not Private.

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