A common buck deer in the forest

Managing deer in the nation's forests

The UK is home to six species of deer. Red deer and roe deer, which are native, and four introduced species: fallow, muntjac, sika and Chinese water deer.

Natural predators of deer, such as bears, lynx and wolves, are now extinct in Britain. Within properly functioning ecosystems, deer play an important role by maintaining open areas which can enhance the biodiversity and habitat quality of a woodland. However, in the absence of predators, excessive browsing and grazing by unmanaged herds can have a devastating effect on their environment.

Impact of overpopulation

Deer numbers can become too large for their habitat to support them and high intensity trampling and grazing reduces the diversity of plants and animals in the forest which can affect soils and release carbon. Deer can also damage or kill young trees by damaging bark and lower branches.

Research by the British Trust for Ornithology has found that common species including robin, wren and blackbird are less likely to be in woodland areas browsed by deer. Some of our most vulnerable breeds, such as nightingale, nightjar and woodcock, are also negatively affected by deer grazing and browsing.

Without predators, deer are more likely to suffer from starvation and sickness.

How we control deer numbers

Over the last few decades all six deer species have increased dramatically in range and number, and deer populations are now higher and more concentrated across England than they have ever been.

Forestry England is part of the Deer Initiative, a partnership that promotes sustainable management of wild deer in England and Wales. 

Our policy is to manage deer populations sustainably. Our highly skilled wildlife rangers replace the role of Britain’s missing predators by sensitively and humanely controlling deer populations in woods. Our expert staff use trained working dogs to track and find deer.

Our rangers work to the highest standards of safety and animal welfare, and we use lead-free ammunition, having been one of the first organisations in the UK to do so.

Each deer is inspected, uniquely tagged, processed and stored according to food hygiene standards. The meat supplied to our partner game dealers is turned into a range of cuts of wild venison that is sold across the country.