Study urges cull of half Britain's deer population

Half of Britain's deer population needs to be culled each year in order to preserve woodlands and birdlife, according to a scientific study published Thursday.

The report in the Journal of Wildlife Management claimed that the current deer population of 1.5 million was unsustainable and causing serious damage to woodlands.

Researchers from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, eastern England, called for a tightly-regulated venison market to be created to deal with the cull.

Deer strip woodland of wild flowers, brambles and shrubs, and disturb the ecology to the point that native birds are lost.

"Deer populations are going through the roof," said university ecologist Paul Dolman.

"We're calling for a very large increase in the magnitude of deer culling."

It could result in 750,000 animals being shot every year.

"I don't think it's realistic to have wolves and brown bears in rural England. In the absence of natural predators, the only way to manage them is to shoot them," said Dolman.

"Deer are eating out the... vegetation of important woodlands, including ancient woodlands.

"Deer are implicated as the major cause of unfavourable conditions in terms of woodland structure and regeneration.

"There is evidence that deer reduce the number of woodland birds -- especially some of our much-loved migrant birds species like Blackcap and Nightingale, and resident species like Willow Tip," he added.

"We have a problem."

Britain has six deer species, two of which are native.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Animals demanded that any cull be humane, controlled and backed by "strong science".