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Monday, 3 September, 2001, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Wild deer may go on pill
Deer herd
Britain's deer population is growing out of control
Britain's wild deer could be given contraception to stop their population spiralling out of control.

The free-roaming animals do considerable damage to the countryside - but they could also spread foot-and-mouth disease.

Experts say that if it entered the wild population, it would become almost impossible for Britain to regain its disease-free status.

The British Deer Society says birth control must be considered to keep the population down.

Deer close-up
Foraging deer damage crops and plant life

The society estimates that numbers have increased from 1.25 million to about two million in the past decade.

It is notoriously difficult to administer birth control to wild animals.

But culling would be too unpopular with the public, the society says.

It says birth control measures must be considered to keep the population down.

Thriving species

The society is also calling for research into the spread of deer.

In the middle of the last century they were rare in many parts of England.

Now they are widespread throughout the country.

The growth of woodland habitat is helping Britain's six deer species to thrive.

Ecological threat

Tiny muntjak deer, which first escaped from wildlife parks 100 years ago, are now found across central and eastern England.

Their spread is down to their ability to breed prolifically, and to live on plants that are normally poisonous to other animals, such as yew and rhododendron.

Wild wolf
One idea was for wolves to control deer numbers
A government advisory body, the Deer Initiative, found that the size of the overall deer population is out of balance with the environment.

They are causing increasing damage to newly-planted woodland, wild flowers, crops and even gardens.

They also cause 40,000 road accidents each year, sometimes resulting in human deaths.

In some areas, mirrors have been set up beside roads to reflect car headlights into verges frightening deer away.

Alternatives to contraception and culling by humans have also been suggested.

Two years ago, an Aberdeen University zoologist called for the re-introduction of wolves into the Scottish Highlands to prevent a population explosion of red deer.

Dr Martyn Gorman, vice chairman of the UK Mammal Society, said wolves once numbered several thousand in the British Isles, and could redress the ecological balance.

See also:

09 Dec 00 | Scotland
Castaways' illegal deer kill
17 Sep 99 | Sheffield 99
Call for return of Scottish wolves
01 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
Leaf deer takes a bow
29 Nov 97 | Background
Deerhunting and deerstalking factfile
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