Read VEGA's response to the DEFRA consultation
1. Evidence of clashes and threats
1.1 Averages assessment of perceived threats mislead and are inadequate, because difficulties arise in specific areas – urban and rural, upland and lowland, wood-, grass- or cropland etc. – although the general picture would appear no weaker than routine interferences in our own lives that we can insure against. The claims for subsidies farmers and horticulturists might make – and no doubt stimulated by memories of production incentives in the undecoupled years of CAP grants – need scrutiny, lest public funds are milked to conceal lapses of prudent practice.
1.2 However, the welfare of the deer must be emphasised and must not be compromised by bad practice: the animals may be "wild", but they are still very much at the mercy of the "unnatural" and overweening human dominance. The wolf has been exterminated; we have assumed the status of the deer’s major predator (even allowing for the toll of zoonotic disease).
1.3 We note therefore the last bullet point in paragraph 12 ("Who will benefit from the review?") of your document, mentioning those who "take a close interest in animal welfare". The adjective suggests an unnecessary peculiarity of an appreciable population wishing to plead the animals’ interests rather than their own. This must represent a common interest in welfare and recognise that some of the animals are descendents coping in unequal conditions from mistakes in husbandry made by us and our forebears, and accorded insincere respect.
Even a compromise Bill to limit hunting as a pastime and alleged agent of pest control seems likely to soon banish the hunting of stags or of cervid, certainly with the assistance of dogs. Certain areas, as mentioned in your reports, will need special attention by animal welfare and environment organisations, if only to prevent a previously popular reform being succeeded by an outcry of betrayal over heavy culling.
3. Control of populations and culling
3.1 Chemical and immunological control of fecundity and fertility need more attention in contexts of international applications for a number of species differing in physiology. We must accept that this will entail experimentation on animals: at least a good case can be made for its scientific importance and relevance, and it bids fair to reduce discontent over avoidable resort to culling. Among the disciplines recruited to such projects must be animal behaviour to assess the effects of such interventions on herd structure and the existence of the affected animals. We hope DEFRA will raise funds to sponsor the appropriate research.
3.2 Translocation might solve some problems of overpopulation, but mighty challenges in transport arise (for simultaneous transfer of herds must be entertained, rather than of single animals). Deer, especially undomesticated examples, are flighty and much distressed by confinement, even temporary.
3.3 Your information on culling methods is comprehensive, but we note that the Humane Slaughter Association and the Farm Animal Welfare Council are not named among the consultees. Their experience and recommendations are relevant and should be tapped.
3.4 We note in your document mention of trapping in a net, succeeded by acceptable means of killing as an alternative to open range use of gun or killing by night. Netting would be limited in application and could be cruel, but resorting to “humane” cages might reduce the stress, with (say) selected pheromones as lures and IT to give the alert when the trap has been sprung; final killing must be urgently accomplished. Animals killed in such circumstances should not be used as a source of meat; therefore provision of expenses would have to be met from local authority or government funds.
3.5 We insist that all culling and killing for any commercial purpose or otherwise (which may be pastime or "sport") should be carried out by a trained person, with general and specific licences for the job. This is consistent with our demands for similar qualifications for all handlers, owners, and killers of animals. These requirements must be emphasised in your proposals. An accompanying license does not mean that an unlicensed person can perform lethal attempts. "Downers" or fallen animals or moribund victims of accidents should be killed by vets or knacker-persons equipped with armoury or drugs that would be appropriate for animals such as horses or cattle as well as deer. Muscle relaxants should never be used, except for surgery in veterinary hospitals.
Your material devotes some mention to the effects of deer populations on other wild life and in urban environments. Devices exist to fence off areas or to clad saplings and trees for their protection. We found nothing in your proposals for applications of predators’ dung (e.g. from lions held in captivity) as a deterrent to deer. This usage follows sound reasoning from studies of behaviour, and could be extended to signals and markers from other carnivores that deer recognise as a deterrent for them. Such products would normally be collected from carnivores held in zoos and therefore of questionable acceptability for purposes approved by animal welfare organisations. However, the discipline of metabonomics has progressed to identify in excreta increasing evidence of pheromones that can be synthesised and used for purposes of attraction or deterrence; further, some carnivores and predators have powerful scent glands as indicators of their presence. Progress in these studies is worthwhile and needs research and development, in which the range of the deer’s senses must be fully explored and understood.
5. Road Accidents
The material we have received from you deals aptly with the toll of accidents involving us and our machinery and animals who have a reason to cross the road. Fluorescent warnings on open roads, with emergency phone numbers, should be positioned at frequent intervals- and especially at “black spots” where observation has revealed frequent animal traffic – so that appropriate medical and veterinary aid can be summoned urgently. Speed restraints on road should be placed with these factors in mind. Most motorists nowadays and in the future, as well as passers-by, will have mobile phones, from which they can contact services. As with medical advice they receive, veterinary recommendations will teach the elements of appropriate first aid and the need for watchful waiting and care and avoidance of harmful interventions- and certainly no attempt at moving the fallen animal, but rather diverting traffic around it. Provision for these eventualities must inform road authorities and the corresponding advice should be written into the Highway Code.
6. Zoonoses and other Infectious Diseases
Your list might include Johne’s disease in ruminants (with possible connection with human Crohn’s), brucellosis, and prion diseases. The possibilities of mingling with farm animals and of wild reservoirs of infections have taken particular- but not always adequately heeded- importance after the latest epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease. Deer carcasses from injuries of all sorts must be inspected and tested in the manner increasingly required by the Over Thirty Month Scheme and other EU initiatives for cattle (and sheep).
7. Vandalism and other Cruelty
We have in mind the actions of vandals in country and urban areas and exploitation of accidentally or otherwise stricken, killed or butchered animals for unlawful commerce in meat, organs, or adornments; antler velvet and pizzles, for instance, command a good price as components of "health foods" and the antlers enough to pay for some of the damage incurred in an "accident" involving a car.
Hon Research Advisor