In the UK, in 2022, you are twice as likely to hit a deer than in 1997. That risk has gone up fourfold since 1980.
The government-funded Deer Initiative estimates there could be up to 74,000 road accidents involving deer each year. Deer vehicle collisions injure hundreds of people and cause more than 16 million pounds worth of insurance pay-outs.
Dr Jochen Langbein, who has studied accidents involving deer for more than 20 years, estimates that the cost of the collisions to the economy is up to £50 million annually. He says: “The great majority of deer road casualties or deer accidents are not recorded at all.”
Dr Langbein says the only time an accident with a deer has to be recorded by law is if a person is injured. Even then, the fact that a deer was involved rather than any other animal doesn’t appear in official national statistics.
The government says the UK deer population is at an all-time high. Yet the Highways Agency pulled funding from the only national campaign to raise awareness of deer vehicle collisions, the Drive Deer Aware Campaign. This means the government has stopped funding all research into deer accidents.
Dr Langbein is grateful that the government did fund research for 20 years as initially he thought it might only last three years. He’s not sure why the Highways Agency pulled out, although he knows budgets are tight.
He says the number of deer vehicle collisions has reached the highest recorded levels. He says: “It’s likely to carry on increasing again from now on, unless there’s another big economic downturn or a big change in deer management strategy.”
Dr Langbein says he expects deer vehicle collisions will top 75,000 this year for the first time. He says deer populations are rising in certain areas. He says: “Deer populations aren’t increasing everywhere, but they are still continuing to spread, especially throughout the lowland of Scotland and in the East of England.
“Muntjac populations are getting bigger and they’re starting to make up a very high percentage of the total number of deer collisions.”
The British Deer Society says accidents on roads are one of the main causes of mortality among wild deer populations. The BDS says a high proportion of deer which are hit are not killed outright. Some may need to be put down at the roadside while others escape to die of their injuries later.
Mike Dickinson is a deer stalker with more than 35 years’ experience. As well as stalking wild deer, he farms deer at Calton Moor in Staffordshire.
Police call on him to despatch deer injured on roads nearby.
Mike says that, when the police ask, he has to clarify several issues. He needs to know who is going to insure him and can he take over if he needs to. He says the police are usually in attendance, although not always. Mike also needs to know be certain the police will not prosecute him for using a firearm on the road. He says: “If the deer gets over the fence into the field at the side, the police can’t give you authority to do it. The deer belongs to the landowner. It’s just a nightmare of the scenario to get into.”
The BDS says the peak of deer collisions happen between October and December, and also in May. The now defunct Drive Deer Aware Campaign advised drivers to be cautious between sunset and midnight. It also warned that, if you see a deer, there may be others.
Dr Langbein says that once the lead animal goes, the others rush across. He says: “It’s often the case that if the first one isn’t hit, it’s the next one you need to watch out for. That’s what people often think, ‘Oh, good, it’s gone.’ And then they hit the next one.”
The BDS advises drivers not to veer for deer. If a collision is inevitable, it is better to hit an animal while maintaining full control of a vehicle. It warns the alternative of swerving into oncoming traffic could be worse. It says motorcyclists are at a higher risk in direct collisions with deer. BDS also advises drivers not to approach a deer if it is still alive after an accident as it says only ‘specialists’ should handle the animals.
Mike says that the main deer species where he lives in the Peak District is red deer. He says: “Red are fairly tall. The car will hit the deer and smash its legs. The deer will roll over the bonnet, smash the windscreen and roll inside the car with the driver. It’s only got broken legs, but it’s going to be struggling like mad. The driver is strapped in the car and that’s where the fatalities come from.”
Each local authority in Britain is responsible for its own prevention measures. Cannock Chase in Staffordshire is a hotspot for deer accidents.
Dr Langbein has worked with the county council to reduce accidents involving deer. He says the council has been active. He praises Staffordshire’ ranger, Roger Taylor. He says councils have tried different deterrents at the roadside. Some produce different sounds, others flash coloured lights. Dr Langbein says that the measures can be limited in areas dominated by fallow deer, which are a herding species. He says: “I think they’d actually be more effective with more solitary species such as roe deer and muntjac.”
Mike believes the government needs to take action to tackle the rising problem. He says the deer vehicle accidents should be logged by the police which would help create better statistics. Mike believes the number of accidents involving deer will continue to rise as there’ll be more interaction between the animals and vehicles. He says: “If there’s more deer on the road and way too many cars on the road they are bound to come into conflict with each other. A deer will right off a car without thinking about it and just run off. They’re solid things.”
Dr Langbein says there are regional maps for every county in the country which identify the accident hotspots. He says that, although the information is available, county councils haven’t enough funding to take action. He’s hopeful that, if the maps get to the authorities, they will be more aware of where the hotspots are and take some action.
Dr Langbein is sceptical as drivers often ignore warning signs. He says different type of roads need different deterrents but these are expensive.
For more information on the issue see the Langbein Wildlife Channel on YouTube.