Deer surveys

As well as in many other lowland areas across the UK, populations of deer have been present in the Broads area for many years.

red deer standing in a body of water

Historically, their population has been relatively low and they have had minimal impact on the landscape. However, since 2005 the number and range of deer has increased across many areas of East Anglia, and the population is now higher and is more widespread than at any time in recent history.

With the support of landowners and the public, we are planning to undertake surveys to quantify deer numbers in the Broads area. This will help us to understand their impacts and inform what we should do to control them in the future.

Impacts of deer

Whilst many people are happy to spot deer on their visits to the Broads, the negative impacts from Red deer (Cervus elaphus), Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis) and Muntjac deer (Muntiacus reevesi) have reportedly increased. This has resulted in an increasing awareness of the need for a more effective control plan.

Female Red deer

The primary driver behind concerns around deer populations is their appetite. Some species of deer can eat over 7kg of food a day, which is often sourced from woodlands, cereal crops and ornamental gardens.

Deer grazing, or 'browsing' of tree saplings and other young vegetation poses a particular issue in our woodlands where they may eat through significant amounts of low-lying vegetation. This removal of the woodland understory can negatively impact the structure of the landscape and prevent the natural regeneration of our woodlands. Biodiversity impacts of deer grazing may also include a reduction in food sources and a decline in habitats for birds, insects and other mammals.

Deer can also create significant losses for farmers and land owners. They are known to feed heavily on cereal (arable) crops such as wheat, corn and barley, as well as on vegetable crops.

A final consideration is the potential increased likelihood of road traffic accidents and near-misses where areas that have a high population density of deer are intersected by roads and other rights of way.

Deer have no natural predators in the UK and so there are increasing applications to manage deer populations to protect arable crops, woodlands, reed beds, wider biodiversity and road users. Even with this in place the population of deer is continuing to increase in the Broads area.

Deer surveys

There is evidence that the deer population in the Broads area has increased, but no formal landscape scale assessment of numbers nor recorded impacts has occurred.

A drone survey has been completed, at no cost to the landowners in the area, which provides an estimate of the minimum population of deer in the Broads area.

Who organised the survey

A partnership between the Forestry Commission and the Broads Authority has provided the opportunity to undertake night and day time thermal drone counts of the red, muntjac roe, and Chinese water deer populations in the area.

Natural England Assent was gained to undertake the survey work across protected sites, so that the survey will not adversely affect any of the important wildlife features in the area.

How the survey took place

The survey took place in February 2024 during the night or early morning period, whilst there were deer movements occurring. Drones were operated by Ben Harrower Wildlife Consultants. The drones are equipped with high tech thermal and high definition cameras.

Outcomes of the survey

The count maps the range of the population, and give overall minimum population sizes.

The total number of deer surveyed within the landscape was 4,452. The number of Chinese Water deer was by far the highest with 1,997 – accounting for nearly half of all deer counted. Red deer were the second most common deer recorded with 1,172, this is followed by Muntjac 1,028 and 255 Roe deer. The surveyed area was approximately 203km2. Giving an overall deer density (allowing for exclusion areas) of almost 17 per km2 which classes as high.

It’s worth noting that these numbers should be treated as an absolute population minimum due the timing of the survey and the fact that most deer are in the reedbeds and woodlands meaning that daytime density pressure is much higher in these habitats.

The information gathered has been provided to landowners to support them with their ongoing landscape management work, to grow crops, enhance reedbed and woodland condition, and increase the wider biodiversity of the landscapes.

Support the project

To help discuss this information with landowners and support them with their ongoing landscape management work and food production the Broads Authority held a workshop in May 2024. 62 people attended, including stalkers and landowners including conservation organisations, everyone was engaged on the topic.

Broads Authority will continue to:

  • Help coordinate partners and assist in gathering scientific evidence on the impact of deer on habitats in the Broads, particularly fens, reedbeds and wet woodlands, and work with funding partners to encourage financing of a monitoring programme.
  • Assist in facilitation and guidance to landowners, helping to formulate a coordination group for Deer Management.
  • Support the training and facilities for deer management via external funding, for example in 2024/25 through Farming in Protected Landscapes bids.

If you require any further information about the project or have any questions please contact:

Further information

For further information on the impacts of deer please see: