Wild Venison – The Problem and Solution

The increase in English wild deer numbers

The following represents the thoughts of Game dealers and Deer managers, following significant discussions post lockdown.

UK wild deer population and the pandemic

  • Pre–pandemic English deer numbers were estimated to be rising year on year (I have heard figures of between 5-10 %)
  • The first lockdown was in early March 2020, the key month for culling female deer. This, combined with the closure of all hospitality (wild venison’s largest market), meant game dealers stopped buying overnight. The result was an immediate and massive slowdown in culling.
  • The next lockdown in November 2020 coincided with the opening of the female deer season and lasted effectively for the whole season (Nov 1 to March 31) Despite admirable private and local schemes, hospitality remained largely closed thus massively reducing the market for wild venison.
  • Brexit temporarily prevented the sale of wild venison to the EU.
  • Game dealers across the UK estimate a conservative reduction in purchasing of carcasses of 50% during the lockdown period.
  • Deer managers can only shoot their required numbers of deer if they can sell the carcass for a reasonable sum.
  • Deer management starts with a healthy market for venison which translates to a good cull as dealers pay better prices. In the season before the pandemic, prices for wild venison had dropped to as low as 50p per kilo, from a high of £3.

Note: Supermarkets do not buy wild venison as their processing requirements are too difficult for wild deer. Instead, they rely on imported New Zealand and UK farmed deer and UK Park venison. These deer are the same environmentally as stock animals and do not form part of this assessment.

Results of the reduction in the deer cull

  • Pre-pandemic we were already seeing larger than ever super herds of wild Fallow deer. I have filmed a herd of over 400 Fallow in a field near Cirencester, Glos.
  • The now defunct Deer Initiative reported 4 years ago that the Fallow deer population in some parts of the UK had a male to female ratio of as high as 16:1. My observations are that this figure is probably 5: 1 but higher in certain areas.
  • This is caused by very long male deer seasons and the higher meat value of the bigger animals.
  • We must calculate the R rate (!) of deer population growth not on overall numbers but on the numbers of females so this point is very important.
  • If we say that the cull across England was down conservatively by 50% during the lockdown period, then we are looking at a VERY significant 1-year increase in overall numbers, perhaps as high as 30%.
  • Even if we increase the 2022/23 cull by 10%, we are still looking at a single event that will allow deer numbers to enter exponential growth rather than their previous steady growth.
  • In addition to damage to crops and tree planting this will lead to a massive increase in RTA’s (road traffic accidents), human interaction with deer and loss of life and limb.
  • Post lockdown venison prices have remained low, therefore there is no incentive for deer managers to take up the slack and reduce deer numbers.