Deer management at Ashridge Estate

Deer herd grazing at Ashridge, Herts

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 therefore an unfortunate but necessary part of our conservation work.

Information about our deer management is given below or you can have a look at our Ashridge Deer Management FAQs (PDF / 0.2MB) download

Deer at Ashridge

The fallow deer at Ashridge are completely wild and free to roam wherever they please.
Deer travel very widely in this landscape, crossing land owned by many private landowners
as well as by the National Trust. They can often be seen in the woodland, on the open
commons and, of course, in the arable farmland, grazing on a rich diet of crops.

Impact on the woodland

Deer have no natural predators and this allows the population to increase to unnaturally
high levels. They are a real threat to the woodland for which Ashridge is famous. They feed
extensively on a whole range of plants and saplings that should form a diverse shrub layer
beneath the canopy of the trees.

The shrub layer at Ashridge is almost non-existent and this undermines the ability of other species including birds, bats, insects and rare plants to survive and thrive here. Because of their very damaging impacts, deer at Ashridge have always been culled.

Our deer monitoring

All over the country, deer numbers have increased in recent decades and Ashridge is no
exception. We now have more than five times as many deer as were recorded here in
1978 – just 40 years ago.

Every year, we undertake rigorous deer impact assessments. In other words, we go out and
meticulously record the actual damage that the deer are doing in our landscape. Our deer
management decisions are based on the impact that the deer are having, rather than the
number of deer present at any one time. We also know from our neighbouring farmers that
the damage to their crops is significant.

Inevitably, one cannot remove the need for talking about numbers as well as impacts
completely. A manual deer count has been taking place here for decades. While this is
never going to give an accurate number, it does provide a useful indication as to what the
trend might be.

Over the last three years, we’ve also undertaken a second count using
thermal imaging equipment. The use of this technology gives a much more accurate result,
but you can still only record the deer which happen to be within the survey area on the day
in question.

Fallow deer at Ashridge
Fallow deer at Ashridge, Herts
Fallow deer at Ashridge

Deer cull

It’s important to note that the deer counts take place in March and that the new season’s
fawns are born in May. Almost every adult doe will give birth to a new fawn and so the
number of deer will rise significantly just three months after the count has taken place.

In 2015, as a response to the very significant deer damage we see at Ashridge, we
embarked on what we termed a ‘reduction cull’. In other words, it was our intention to try to
substantially reduce deer damage by reducing the number of deer in the landscape.

We have culled over 600 deer in each of the last three years. We know, as a result of our impact assessments and our counts, that this is just maintaining the herd at more or less
the same level.

Changes in deer behaviour

The increased cull has led to a change in the behaviour of the deer. They’re moving
through the landscape in small groups, avoiding human contact, staying away from roads
and only grazing on open land under the cover of darkness.

This is entirely natural behaviour and is exactly the way that wild herd deer should behave. It's not usual to be able to get up close to a large herd of deer grazing in broad daylight outside of a managed deer park.

The change in behaviour has led some visitors to think that there are very few deer left.
This really isn’t the case; they are just acting in a different way.

Seeing deer on the estate

We do understand that people are seeing the deer less frequently. For those wishing to see
deer, we'd recommend walking quietly with your dog (if you have one) on a short lead.
Choose parts of the estate that are away from roads and well used tracks.

Deer are surprisingly hard to see within the tree canopy and it's possible to pass very close to them without seeing them – you need to keep your eyes peeled. Peer though the trunks of the
trees into the darkest places, looking for the give-away flick of a tail or the glint of a bright
eye. Your patience will soon be rewarded with a glimpse of these beautiful creatures.

The deer here continue to be in excellent health and we remain committed to them
remaining an important and highly valued part of this beautiful place.

Stag running through the trees
Stag running through trees at Ashridge, Herts
Stag running through the trees

This year's cull

The main deer cull begins on 1 November and we'll be putting up advisory signage as
usual nearer the time.

We operate to exemplary standards of safety. Each of our stalkers holds a professional stalking qualification and undertakes an externally audited skills affirmation test and firearms inspection at the start of the season. They all wear an armband that identifies them as an authorised stalker. We do not sell licences for people to stalk at Ashridge; deer management is a conservation cost to the estate.

Venison

We do sell the venison that arises from the cull. Deer boxes and retail cuts will be available from the National Trust shop again from mid-November. The income generated by venison sales is significantly less than the cost of the cull and we cannot stress strongly enough that deer culling is done for conservation reasons rather than commercial purposes.

More information

If you have any other queries, do please contact us. You can email us at
ashridge@nationaltrust.org.uk or you can telephone 01442 841800 and ask to speak to our Countryside Manager.