Deer management at Ashridge Estate

Majestic male fallow deer at Ashridge Hertfordshire

We want to maintain a healthy herd of deer at Ashridge with a visible presence for everyone to see and enjoy. However, they can cause great damage to our woodlands if their numbers are uncontrolled. Deer management is an unfortunate, but necessary part of our conservation work.

We have been monitoring the deer impact at Ashridge for many years. Deer no longer have natural predators in the UK so the mild winters in Southern England have resulted in a very high birthrate. 

Ashridge is a vast woodland surrounded by large areas of farmland. The agricultural land provides an unnaturally rich and plentiful food source for the deer and as a result, their numbers expand very quickly.

Other plants and animals are affected

The deer are wild and roam freely across the whole estate. To prevent overgrazing of special habitats and damage to the woodland and crops, we need to control the deer at Ashridge. When deer numbers are too high, other animals and plants begin to be affected.

The shrub layer of the woodland has been entirely eaten by the deer at Ashridge. This natural layer of the woodland normally provides nesting habitat, shelter, nectar, berries and nuts for a whole range of birds, mammals and insects. With the shrub layer gone, all life suffers.

Deer rutting in the Old Park at Ashridge
Deer rutting Ashridge Estate Herts

To maintain the population of wild deer at an acceptable level, we carry out regular deer counts. An idea of numbers is helpful, but cull targets are based on assessments of the damage they are actually causing, rather than the number of deer sighted. 

We have been monitoring the deer impact at Ashridge for many years. Young trees and delicate rare flowers cannot regenerate due to continuous browsing by deer. If this deterioration continues the habitats are likely to be lost forever. We are acting to prevent this and to ensure that woodlands and deer at Ashridge have a future.

We do not sell licences

We have never sold licences to anyone to stalk deer and have no intention of doing so. Deer management is a considerable outlay to the estate, but one which we consider necessary to keep the very special woodland habitats of Ashridge in a condition that enables a whole range of species to thrive. 

Our intention is to reduce the numbers of deer, not to eliminate them. Ashridge has always used external providers for its deer management services. In 2015 the deer management contract was reviewed and we received 26 applications from professional stalkers.

The selection process, overseen by the national authority on deer management, the Deer Initiative, was rigorous, robust and fair. We are coming up to our third season with our contracted stalking team. 

Exemplary deer management practice

Every stalker holds a formal deer management qualification and undergoes a shooting test to ensure their competence. We also carry out an inspection of all the firearms used.  This is thought to be the highest level of competency assessment taking place anywhere in the country at present and is regularly held up as an exemplar in deer management practice. 

The process is quick and the deer do not suffer unnecessarily. The majority of this work is carried out from the 1st of November until the end of the following February. 

Poachers

We have received reports of poachers on the estate and our stalkers have had to dispatch a number of animals who have been harmed by their activities. Anyone seeing unauthorised shooting on the estate at any time should call the police immediately. Our stalkers all wear an arm band so that members of the public who encounter them on duty can be sure they are authorised by the National Trust. 

Fallow deer are a wonderful sight and are an integral part of the estate. We want to ensure that they thrive in a rich and healthy environment for many years to come.

We are always very happy to speak to people about our work. If you are ever concerned by anything you hear, please just get in touch so that we can give you up to date and accurate information. Our email address is: ashridge@nationaltrust.org.uk

Our work is endorsed by The Deer Initiative. Further information about deer management can be found on their web pages.