Deer management at Hatfield Forest and Wall Wood

A group of four fallow deer in a forest glade

The large deer population in Hatfield Forest and Wall Wood does a lot of damage to the woodland shrub. We need to control this population for the long term health of the forest, by a programme of active management.

What is a "forest"?

Did you know that the medieval meaning of ‘forest’ has little to do with trees?  It actually means the keeping of deer within an enclosed parcel of land.  King Henry I introduced fallow deer from Sicily to Hatfield Forest in the early 1100s.  Muntjac, a smaller deer, were first seen at the Forest in 1964.  They are thought to have escaped from Woburn Abbey in the early 20th Century.  

Deer do damage  

Deer enjoy eating - or ‘browsing’ - the leaves, shoots and even the bark of woody plants and also many different wild flowers such as the rare oxlip. They have a devastating effect on the woodland when the population outgrows the food supply.  Today, wild deer have become the single biggest threat to woodland in the UK. 

The shrub layer of the woodland has been entirely eaten by the deer at Hatfield Forest and Wall Wood. 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 and if a wood can’t produce young trees, it will eventually die.

In larger numbers, deer need to go further for food and cause a great deal of damage to farmers’ crops, as well as causing up to 74,000 vehicle collisions every year on the UK’s roads. 

Two main problems are that deer no longer have natural predators in the UK and mild winters in Southern England have resulted in a very high birthrate. For owners of ancient SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) woodland, responsible deer management is a statutory obligation. 

Local Impact

At Hatfield Forest and Wall Wood, damage to the ancient coppice has become unsustainable and so a reduction cull is necessary, along with protective deer fencing. In smaller numbers, deer are actually beneficial to the forest environment by opening up small glades for the benefit of ground flora.

 The maintenance of a healthy herd will always be necessary, as it has been for the last 1000 years.

Deer management

An annual deer census is carried out using a variety of different techniques, including night time thermal imaging and deer impact assessments.  It is estimated that there are now 180 fallow and 100 muntjac deer on Hatfield Forest. 

The ideal herd is 120 fallow and no muntjac. The deer herd is currently too large for the Forest to sustain and so a cull target is set prior to the beginning of each season.  

The fallow season starts on 1st August and ends on the 30th April.  Muntjac have no closed season because they breed all year round. 

Our professional deer management team are trained to the highest standards and culling is achieved with a rifle, often from a high seat but sometimes on foot. You are safe walking in Hatfield Forest and Wall Wood while deer management is in progress.

Where and when we cull

The National Trust however recognises that some people may not wish to witness deer culling activities.  For this reason we provide the following guidelines so that an informed choice can be made as to the best times to visit: 

In the mornings, deer culling is carried out between an hour before sunrise and 9am, and deer are brought back to the forest’s deer unit by 10am. In the evenings, culling takes place from two hours before sunset and an up to an hour afterwards. Deer culling is not carried out within the Lake Area or Woodside Green.

Further aspects

Deer management at Hatfield Forest and Wall Wood is supported by Natural England, the Forestry Commission, the Deer Initiative and Essex Police.

We sell wild venison produced from Hatfield Forest’s deer management in our shop and from the estate offfice.  This a is healthy and delicious lean meat, perfect for roasting as joints, grilling as steaks or diced, in a casserole.  For further information, follow the link below to "Fruits of the Forest"

If you are interested in learning more about deer, please visit the British Deer Society’s website: www.bds.org.uk.

To find out more about the important work of the Deer Initiative, visit: www.thedeerinitiative.co.uk