The impact of deer on private property and costs to our farming community are escalating rapidly
When the first community meeting to discuss the issue of deer in our catchment was organised by the Upper Beaconsfield Conservation Group, environmental damage was at the forefront of their thoughts and concerns. It quickly became apparent during the Q & A open forum session, the issue of deer encroaching on private land was possibly THE big issue for most people there.
Boundary fences were no barrier to deer, who can leap over a two metre fence from a standing start. Landowners had no control over the deer and the damage being caused in a single night could be devastating.
We have had correspondence from private landowners like:
“I have read the interesting article in the Upper Beaconsfield Village Bell, in reference to the feral deer problem.
My property is situated on Wellington Road, and we are visited daily by a herd of deer, which is causing damage to paddocks, and garden!
I am actually at my wits end as to how this constant invasion will ever cease.”
One landowner’s reply to a survey asking farmers to quantify the value of damage to their farming enterprises was eye-opening:
“Our biggest impact is on our fruit trees.
Trees that are 6-30 years old and 6 m tall can be badly damaged in one night.
It is very disheartening, expensive to replace (cost of new trees, and labour and machinery hire to removal the old trees and putting in a new ones) and then there is the economic cost of the fruit lost each year until the new tree is fully mature (15 years).”
All up this farmer put a conservative estimate of replacement cost & lost income per tree before reaching maturity of $1610. As well as this there is the cost of erecting 2m high deer proof fencing around the property, which regularly need repairing due to damage caused by deer.
Among the hardest hit are the Landcare communities. Revegetation works they have been carrying out for decades are being hard hit as the usual tree guards offer no protection against deer. For example, a Bessie Ck Landcare property owner wrote recently that
“our experience is that the deer pass through so damage is sporadic but definitely varies from 100% destruction for a re-vegetation area to persistent pruning causing stunting over years, to times when nothing happens for a season or two.”
A Tonimbuk farmer was nearly in tears at a recent community meeting as he described the devastation wreaked by deer on the revegetation works he had carried out on his own property since the 2009 bushfires.
There are some landowners who “don’t mind bambi at the bottom of the paddock.” Deer are a beautiful animal and can’t be blamed for being transported to Australia. And they don’t “intend” to do harm. But harm happens, and bambi doesn’t stay in that paddock, but goes into the next, and the garden next door, and the orchard over the road.
(For a transcript of a letter from one of our farming members written in response to the DEWLP Draft Deer Management Strategy, read here.)
Due to their sheer size, speed & escalating numbers, deer are now a major danger on our local roads.
In 2015 deer overtook cattle as the fourth most common animal collision reported to the RACV in Victoria.
Deer are now commonly seen beside and crossing the roads in our area, and local panel beaters have noted an increasing number of deer related repairs.
Deer are a serious concern to motorists due to their absolute lack of road sense and to their size and speed. A fully grown sambar can weigh over 400kg and, with a high centre of gravity, this can be a lethal combination. This means that in a frontal collision at speed, the body of the deer will likely come over the bonnet, through the windscreen and into the cabin of the car. Even the smaller fallow deer at up to 200kg would be a serious threat. Australia has already had its first fatal deer accident, although fatal accidents are well known in North America.
Some general advice:
Deer are not native to Australia. They have only been here since about the 1860s. Along with the likes of rabbits, foxes, sparrows, blackbirds and many other species, they were originally introduced into the environment by homesick English settlers, both for sentimental reasons and hunting enjoyment. In the 1970s and ‘80s, deer farming became popular as a new way to generate farm income. As with many boom industries, the bust soon followed and many farmers simply opened their gates and let the deer out.
It seemed for a while that deer were quite benevolent in our landscape: cute little bambis standing by the road verge, quietly nibbling away on the grass with no adverse effects, effortlessly leaping over the fence as we drove by.
Unfortunately, it was not to remain so. We are not yet sure why, but things have suddenly changed over the last two decades. Roadside sightings are no longer rare nor special and we have now had our first deer related fatalities on the nation’s roads. Farmers now find themselves competing with deer on a daily basis. And the Australian environment, especially in the creek valleys, is being trashed.
Deer are known as “ecosystem engineers”. These are organisms that create, significantly modify, maintain or destroy a habitat. Ecosystem engineers can have a large impact on the species richness and landscape-level heterogeneity, especially when such an organism arrives in a new area. This is happening in the Cardinia valley right now, to such an extent that both Melbourne Water and Parks Vic have both started to take serious action to limit deer numbers to preserve the natural environment.
Deer damage the environment in a number of ways. Being browsers, they eat a lot of our native shrubs, such as pomaderris and muttonwood, along with the emerging seedlings of the trees, reducing food sources and nesting sites for native wildlife. When the deer population reaches a certain size this prevents regrowth of the various forest species. They also rub their antlers on the trees, effectively ringbarking and killing them. Unlike kangaroos and wallabies, they are cloven hooved, which means they cause impaction of the ground wherever they walk, leaving hard trails through the bush. In the swampy areas they leave pug marks in the ground or worse, create mud wallows, damage the creek banks, increasing siltation and water turbidity, affecting the fresh water crayfish and the platypus that live on them.
Feral deer have been described as “the most serious invasive problem” in NSW and the ACT. The situation is arguably worse in Victoria. Our environment, still struggling to cope with the impact of feral cats and foxes, and feeling the early effects of global warming, can not afford another threat to its existence.