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Monday, October 17, 2011

Why Bambi's on a collision course: Two-foot muntjac deer cause 42,000 crashes every year

By Damien Gayle

They are just two foot long and as cute as Bambi, but soaring numbers of muntjac deer are causing at least 42,000 road accidents a year, a study has found.

The south-east Asian species is responsible for an estimated 20 deaths and damage of at least £10million annually.

It has also been blamed for destroying crops, endangering native wildlife and spreading disease throughout the countryside.

Asbo Bambi: Muntjac deer have helped fuel a population boom that have seen UK deer numbers double in a decade, leading to a rise in accidents

Muntjacs have been described as ‘Asbo Bambis’ for causing similar levels of destruction in cities as urban foxes as they scavenge through gardens and dustbins.

The People’s Trust for Endangered Species, which carried out the study, said muntjac numbers in Britain have more than doubled to two million in the past decade.

The population has been growing at a much higher rate than native deer such as roe and red.

Most accidents are collisions between deer and cars, mainly around the M25 and the roads of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Berkshire and Warwickshire, where muntjac numbers are highest.

But they can occur across the country. Most recently, a 15-year-old boy died in July after hitting a deer while cycling near Brough, in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

The Deer Initiative, a group of government agencies and charities aimed at managing the deer population, has called for roadside measures such as deer crossings and sensor-activated warning signs to protect the animals.

Pest: With a loud bark and a streetwise aptitude comparable to the city fox, Muntjac deer are increasingly troubling drivers on both urban and suburban roads

But it argues that in some areas herds need to be reduced drastically by culling. Peter Watson, director of the Deer Initiative, said: ‘Muntjacs are becoming a pest in some residential areas, as they have no qualms about wandering into towns.

‘Unfortunately they are partial to roses and can eat up your entire garden overnight. They have also caused damage to parks and have even been spotted chewing up cemeteries.’

A trial cull of muntjacs along a stretch of road in Hertfordshire saw collisions fall from 50 a year to none.

But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said there were no plans to increase deer culls beyond current levels of about 350,000 a year. A spokesman said it was the responsibility of landowners to keep numbers in check.

In Scotland, ministers are so worried about muntjac entering the country they are considering a £2million plan to set up observation stations and round them up as soon as they are seen crossing the border.

The deer usually hide in bushes and long grass and their dog-like bark means they are often mistaken for foxes when they rummage through gardens at night. The muntjac was introduced to Britain from China in the late 19th century by the 11th Duke of Bedford.

Initially the deer were confined to a 3,000-acre park at his Woburn Abbey estate, near Milton Keynes, until a few escaped in the 1920s.

Since then they have thrived. A 2009 report by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology found there were more than 150,000 muntjacs in Britain and their numbers were growing at a rate of 8.2 per cent a year.



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