New Forest farms plagued by deer

14 August 1998

New Forest farms plagued by deer

By Catherine Hughes

A GROWING number of fallow deer is devouring crops and becoming an increasing problem for farmers whose land borders the edge of the New Forest in Wiltshire.

Mike and Judy Smales, who farm at Landford, near Salisbury, claim the problem, which seems particularly bad this year, has been growing over the past 10 years. Groups of between 50 and 60 deer are now seen, and are capable of causing tremendous damage overnight to crops, particularly young trees, they say.

"This compares with groups of about 10 to 15 often seen 10 years ago," says Mr Smales, currently chairman of the Hampshire NFU.

With most of the 202ha (500 acres) farm in grass, the damage has been difficult to quantify. But the maize and sweetcorn fields show clear evidence of the marauding deer.

"They constantly crop the maize down to the stumps and chew away at the sweetcorn, causing it not to pollinate properly so that they can have a clear view," he says.

But with three acres of maize now grazed to the ground, the cost of the damage is now well into four figures, he adds.

As much as the Smales likes deer on the farm, and have grown used to their presence for over 20 years, he now thinks the situation is out of hand and action is needed.

And with the local buck hounds disbanded last year the numbers look set to rise further. "At least the hounds use to keep them moving," says Mr Smales, adding: "Ill have to sort out what we can do about it with my landlord."

If a culling programme is to be adopted, it will have to be carried out by highly skilled marksmen. "It will not just be a matter for the farmer picking up a rifle and dealing with the problem."

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