Page last updated at 09:57 GMT, Tuesday, 22 September 2009 10:57 UK

Drivers told 'slow down for deer'

The Highways Agency's campaign poster
"Slow down, watch out, deer about" the official campaign warns drivers

Drivers are being warned to slow down for deer in a new government initiative hoping to cut the estimated 74,000 collisions with the animals each year.

The Highways Agency warns accidents can result in death or serious injury for both deer and drivers and passengers.

The DeerAware initiative will call on motorists to take precautions, such as slowing down and dipping headlights.

It is estimated there are now more than 1.5m deer in the UK, more than at any other time since the Norman Conquest.

The beginning of the autumnal rutting season, where stags fight each other for mating rights with female deer, mean the animals are far more active than at other times of the year.

That, combined with reduced driving visibility at peak times as the days grow shorter, makes this is one of the periods of highest risk for drivers and animals alike.

DEER AWARE
Slow down when you see deer signs
Dip headlights if you spot a deer
More deer may follow the first
Be prepared to stop
Do not approach an injured deer - it could be dangerous

The initiative to change driving habits was launched at Richmond Park in south-west London on Tuesday - a 2,500-acre royal park which has been home to deer for centuries.

Tony Sangwine, senior environmental principal for the Highways Agency, warned deer were "highly unpredictable" and could suddenly appear on the road.

"Particularly at dusk and dawn, and in spring and autumn," he said.

The RSPCA said it alone received 3,000 calls a year about injured deer on the roads.

RSPCA senior wildlife scientist Colin Booty said: "This is probably the biggest welfare issue affecting our wild deer.

"As well as the deer that are killed, over 10,000 are severely injured every year when hit by vehicles."

Philip Gomm of the RAC Foundation, which represents motorists, said that with 1.5 million deer resident in the UK the chance of hitting one was "significant".

Deer rutting
Injured animals should not be handled, the RSPCA advises

"As is the risk of being injured or killed as a result.

"Patently you are not going to change the behaviour of the animal, so it has to be the responsibility of drivers to be 'deer aware'," he said.

"We still need more complete reporting of deer-related incidents, and are pleased to hear that the Highways Agency, as part of the Department for Transport, will continue to work with the Deer Initiative and other partners to collect more data so that the problem can be publicised - and then tackled."

If you hit a deer or find an injured one, the RSPCA advises reporting it to their cruelty and advice line number but not handling the animal unless "absolutely necessary".

A spokeswoman said the animal might be in a lot of pain or frightened, and there was a risk of getting bitten, so it was safer for everyone if it was not handled.

The Highways Agency recommends ringing the police or ambulance service if a collision risks safety because there are vehicles or deer in the road.



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