Deer within our UK parks are being royally executed and the alternatives seem too few
It’s official: the UK is barmy about their animals. An estimated one in two UK households own a pet, while the mere mention of a YouTube video of a dog in pyjamas or a cat jumping into boxes is enough to reduce the majority of us to a bunch of soppy, cooing puddles of love.
But when it comes to the subject of animal culling, it seems opinion is still divided. Many professionals have argued that the killing of certain animals is vital in order to maintain the British wildlife we have all come to know and love.
The most recent example is that of the badger cull, which was trialled in 2012 in Gloucestershire and Somerset to prevent the spread of bovine tuberculosis. Almost 2000 badgers in the two counties were slaughtered, at a cost of more than seven million dollars. Was it even a success? Dominic Dyer, of Care for the Wild, told the BBC the cull was one of the most “disastrous and expensive” in history, pointing out that there’s no scientific evidence to support the killings.
Still, as senseless as culls like this may seem to many, there are some who can at least surmise that they were done as a last-ditch attempt to save our wildlife.
This brings us neatly around to Richmond Park, which has been the subject of a fervent debate in recent weeks. The Royal Parks, who maintain the grounds, perform a bi-annual deer culling designed to create a healthy herd with a balance of genders and ages. Both Red and Fallow deer have lived on the nature reserve since 1529, with more than 600 still residing there today.
The cull, it is argued, is vital in order to keep the deer population at a sustainable size. “If animals were not removed, food would become scarce and more animals would ultimately suffer,” the Royal Parks say. “Without population control there would be other welfare issues such as low body fat, malnutrition and high incidence of death from exposure to cold in winter.”
Over three of the Royal Park’s eight sites (they also maintain, among others, Greenwich and Bushy Park), it’s estimated that around 900 deer have been shot in the last four years.
Not surprisingly, this has caused outrage among animal rights activists who believe this to be an almost primitive way of dealing with the problem at hand. They argue, with vehement anger, that there are far more ethical ways to maintain the deer population, which has led to groups congregating outside the Richmond Park gates to protest the culling, and a passionate Facebook campaign encouraging others to bombard The Royal Parks with emails and phone calls to show their disgust. The group also took to the streets of Parliament Square on Friday 7 February in an anti-culling demonstration.
So, just what are some of the alternatives, and why haven’t they yet been adopted? Well, the first is the possibility of re-homing deer at farms across the country. Surely the relocation of deer to areas outside of London where there’s more space would solve the problem? The Royal Parks say that, although they re-home a few when there is the space to do so, to do this on a large scale would be pointless as they would just reproduce in a different area, thus merely transferring the problem elsewhere. They also argue the rounding up and transporting of the wild deer would result in great stress and injury to them, as they are not used to being handled like farm-dwelling livestock. Moving deer between sites would also require the use of tranquilisers which cannot be allowed to enter the human food chain.
Animal rights activists are quick to react. Surely the stress of relocating them would be less than being killed? Or, if it really is too much, why don’t they consider implementing non-lethal steps, such as contraceptives which have been successfully introduced in parts of America? This process, Royal Parks counteracts, also causes great stress to the deer. The contraceptives needed are also not licensed for use in the UK, with growing concerns that those used in America have a negative impact on other species.
And then there’s the argument by campaigners that, if left alone, the deer population will naturally maintain and self-regulate their own numbers. Again, this is refuted by Friends of Richmond Park – a charity group dedicated to the conservation and protection of the park – who contest that without monitored control, herds would increase by around 30 per cent annually.
It’s clear that the decision to cull deer is not one that has been taken lightly. While the RSPCA is opposed in principle to the slaughter, the Royal Parks are keen to stress that the cull is supervised by veterinary professionals and supported by the British Deer Society and the Deer Initiative of England and Wales. The Richmond Deer Cull is therefore far more than an ethical issue. It’s also a war between environmental titans, which from the outside, has equally convincing arguments coming from both sides.
Photo Credits: www.oneiroscope.com
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