Deer Impact – Why is it important to Understand?

As a land owner, estate manager or deer stalker it is important to understand what impact the wildlife on your land is having, both negative and positive.

Habitat impact assessment may be new and unfamiliar to some land managers but that does not mean that they are not a valuable thing to undertake and one that can give you a better understanding of the interaction between the environment and the deer that you have living in it. Before conducting your assessment there are four key reasons to bear in mind when assessing or understanding how to assess habitat impacts:

  • Deer are dependent on the habitat as well as impacting on it. Like a farmer knowing about his soils, the deer manager or land manager should know something about the condition of the habitat. In order to manage deer sustainability, a manager should have an understanding of how deer impact on the habitat over time, and how this effects habitat condition. And also visa versa, the land and quality of food can have an impact on the deer.
  • By measuring and recording the impacts of deer on habitat condition, it makes it easier to monitor whether land management objectives are being achieved. These objectives are set by you the land owner or land manager.
  • There are also public objectives associated with land – whether designated sites or land where wider biodiversity responsibilities apply. Government agencies are required to assess and monitor habitat condition in relation to deer impacts in the context of public objectives. The more information deer managers have to hand the better able they will be to discuss habitat impacts with government agencies.
  • If you are taking out hunters explaining to your guests about deer impacts, habitat assessment, condition and monitoring may increase the guests understanding and enjoyment, adding value to the stalking day.
Deer Damage to trees
Showing deer damage to beech tree in woodland

Measuring and assessing deer impacts on habitats can be a complex and time consuming which is why we at DeerFinder offer this service for land owners. There is a minimum set of information that is essential when collecting and analysing the information. This takes account of the statistical requirements for obtaining meaningful and analysable information. Annual monitoring should take a relatively short period of time and should fit easily into existing work programmes.

It is likely that deer managers will wish to know more than the minimum about the habitats for which they are responsible. Deer managers may also consider carrying out botanical surveys, biodiversity audits or detailed impact assessment, that is why we not only use professional deer managers to undertake our surveys but they are also qualified arborists or botanists.

The key impact in woodland that deer can have would be the browsing of seedlings, fraying on saplings & bark stripping of mature trees. In addition, browsing can effect the structure and composition of ground-cover. Information on the age, structure and condition of the woodland will indicate the timescale over which seedlings are needed to replace existing mature trees.

There is a lot more to deer impact surveys than we can explain in a blog post but once you have your basic principles you can determine what you should do with your deer. If the impact is low then you have to ask your self do you need to cull any deer, if it is high then it is likely you will need to shoot some deer to reduce the impact. However this will also largely depend what you want from your woodland.

If you want to have a go at doing your own deer impact survey then a visit to the Deer Initiative website is a good starting point for a basic survey guide and tally sheet, but nothing beats experience. Identifying the damage caused by deer, woodland hare, rabbit, squirrel etc are vital to getting the correct results and this should always be remembered as a factor when doing your survey.


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