THE DEER OF STANSTED FOREST
Wild deer are beautiful and fascinating animals and of the five species found in the British countryside two, fallow and roe are resident in Stansted Forest and a third, muntjac is occasionally seen. Roe, along with red deer are native to Britain, fallow were introduced by the Normans although there is now some evidence that they were here in the 1st century AD. Muntjac are recent colonisers having been either released or escaped from collections especially that of Woburn Abbey from around 1900.
Large deer populations can have very negative impacts on the habitats in which they live. Forestry and woodland management can be adversely affected by the eating of seedlings and coppice re-growth, the fraying of young trees when male deer mark their territory and the scoring or stripping bark from larger trees. In areas devoted to wildlife conservation deer have been responsible for the decrease in certain woodland plants, especially orchids and the complete removal of the scrub layer in some woodlands, severely affecting populations of woodland birds such as nightingale. Farm and market garden crops are also regularly affected with sometimes severe financial penalties.
In the British countryside deer have no natural predators to keep their populations in balance now we no longer have bear, lynx and the wolf. This means that man now has the responsibility to ensure the numbers of deer are kept to a level where they are in balance with their habitat for the benefit of both the deer and other species and landscapes they interact with. In Stansted Forest this is carried out by highly competent stalkers using high powered rifles to ensure effective and humane despatch of animals. The number culled is determined by an annual plan updated by the Head Forester. All carcasses are processed, checked to ensure they are fit to go into the human food chain and kept chilled until they leave our larder facility, the majority going to our regular game dealer but an increasing number to the Stansted Farm Shop.
Wild venison is a very lean and delicious meat, produced in an entirely natural manner and consumers can be reassured that they are supporting the sustainable management of not only these iconic creatures but the ecosystem in which they live. The deer of Stansed are easily observed by those disciplined enough to get up early before the forest gets busy with joggers and dog walkers, move steadily and silently and thoroughly check out all areas ahead before moving on, you might only see the flick of an ear to start with before the rest of the animal is recognised against a backdrop of herbage. Remember the wind needs to be in your face so your scent is not taken into the areas ahead. Our management of the deer in the forest is underpinned by the desire to always maintain them as an integral part of the forest ecosystem whilst keeping the negative effect of their presence to a minimum.
Michael Prior is the Head Forester at Stansted Park.