As cute as Bambi, but deer pose road death time bomb

ROE deer in Scotland face widespread culls amid concerns that an explosion in numbers around towns and cities is a major threat to motorists, claiming lives and causing millions of pounds of damage.

Extensive planting of new forests in the Scottish lowlands in recent years has provided perfect habitat for the native animal.

Now experts estimate roe deer numbers in Scotland have risen to about 350,000, equivalent to the herds of the better-known red deer roaming the Highlands.

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The Deer Commission believes the annual number of road accidents involving deer is around 10,000 with two-thirds caused by the smaller roe. There have been at least two fatalities in the North-east – including Dana-Leigh Trigger, a dental nurse from Banchory in Aberdeenshire – in the last two years.

Across the UK insurance companies estimate they pay out more than 20m for deer-related damage every year.

A major concern now is the growth of roe deer herds around major roads in the central belt. A trial cull of animals has already taken place in Mugdock Country Park, just north of Glasgow, to deal with a roe deer hotspot on the busy A81.

The cull may be extended to other identified hotspots around the M8 motorway, the M80 corridor, the M77 south of Glasgow and the A1 in East Lothian. Other measures under consideration include warning signs for motorists, fences and ensuring trees are not planted close to roads.

Jamie Hammond, the Commission's deer officer for south Scotland, said: "The increasing number of road accidents is becoming a serious safety issue. There have been two fatalities in recent years and many more injuries.

"In the central belt roe are the deer species most involved in accidents and really it is down to luck that there hasn't been a fatality. It's a potential time bomb because there are a huge numbers of deer around roundabouts and hard shoulders."

Roe deer, Britain's second-largest wild mammal after their red cousins, were largely hunted to extinction in the central belt with pockets remaining in the wilder sections of the Borders and further north in the Highlands. But recent Government moves to encourage forestry planting have provided the herds with perfect cover to spread.

One plan, well under way, is to provide an unbroken new forest between Edinburgh and Glasgow. A number of small community woodlands have also been planted around towns and cities in the area.

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Hammond said: "We are planting a lot of new woodland which provides them with both food and shelter. Roe deer are very adaptable and move quite quickly into new areas. They are prolific breeders and unless their numbers are managed they can escalate rapidly.

"I doubt that there is 10 square kilometres of the Scottish mainland now that you cannot find roe deer."

The risk of a collision with deer reaches a peak during May when young roe deer are dispersing from the area where they were born. Dr Jochen Langbein, of the Deer Initiative, which is researching deer hotspots, said: "The annual toll of thousands of collisions between vehicles and deer in Scotland alone results not only in numerous human injury accidents and several million pounds in car repair costs, but also presents a very major animal welfare issue.

"Around a third of all deer hit by vehicles survive the initial impact but suffer for prolonged periods at the roadside until a qualified person can attend to dispatch or treat them."

Hugh Claydon, the sustainable forests manager for the Forestry Commission Scotland, said: "Their range is increasing all the time and there has been an increase in road traffic accidents as a result.

"Warning signs at hotspots would be useful as we need to raise awareness that there are more roe deer about. If nothing else, it will get them to slow down, perhaps saving their car from damage and the life of the animal.

"We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that an increase in roe deer is welcome but their numbers do need to be managed."

The trial cull was carried out after a spate of accidents on the A81 from Strathblane to Milngavie. The Deer Commission found roe deer numbers were 10 times those expected. Around 30 animals were shot in the 2007-8 winter and up to 30 more will follow this season.

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Hammond said: "Mugdock has shown us that with the right people involved and for the right reasons deer can be managed in this way. This is an area that attracts thousands of visitors every year so culls can be carried out successfully."

Tragic victim of freak crash

Dana-Leigh Trigger was a good driver who had passed her test first time. But the 22-year-old dental hygienist died six months ago when she collided with a roe deer near her home in North-east Scotland and her car swerved into a tree.

The deer jumped out of woodland at the side of the Banchory-Campfield road, which had been newly resurfaced with loose chippings and had a 20mph speed limit. Dana could not avoid a collision even though it was a light summer's evening and her Ford Fiesta left the road and landed on its roof.

It was her niece who found the deer, which had crawled off the road back into the woodland. Dana's father David, a driving instructor, said: "Roe deer are a real menace. We knew there had to be a reason why Dana swerved off the road. Probably 99 times out of a 100 she would have walked away from such a collision but this time she didn't. I'm afraid it was just one of those freak things."

Mr Trigger said he had twice collided with roe deer himself while out driving. "What I did, and what I tell my pupils to do, is keep the car straight. It's better to damage the car rather than people.

"Given the increase in numbers I would be fully supportive of any measures to alert drivers to the danger. Warning signs would be a very good idea so that at least drivers are encouraged to slow down."

Mr Trigger said it was still hard to believe that his youngest daughter had been killed in the accident. "She was the type of girl who touched people's lives. You couldn't find a photo of Dana without a smile on her face."

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