It may seem strange to you that I’m a vegetarian that encourages people to eat more venison, so let me explain… I chose to stop eating meat over a decade ago for a mixture of health, ethical and environmental reasons. I believe, in general, people eat too much meat and should go for more meat-free options in their everyday lives. However, if people do choose to eat meat, I’d like them to think about where it comes from and the impact producing it has on the environment.
Myself and many others advocate eating local venison as a sustainable meat option. In the UK, deer are part of our wild fauna and attractive animals that people enjoy to see in the countryside. However, when deer numbers are too high, this can cause damage to woodland and farmland, and more traffic accidents. Hampshire, where I live, has some of the worst roads in the country for accidents involving deer. High population numbers can also lead to poor health for the deer themselves if their numbers are greater than a habitat can support.
There are six species of deer in the UK, red and roe deer which are native species, and four other deer species which have been introduced since Norman times (fallow, Chinese water deer, muntjac and sika). Deer currently have no natural predators in the UK. In the past, lynx, bear and wolves would have hunted deer (as well as humans). Populations of deer in the UK are currently estimated at around 1.5 million, higher than they’ve ever been since the last Ice Age.
Protection measures, such as fencing, are one way to reduce deer damage to woodland and farmland, but experts estimate around 20-25% of adult deer need to be shot each year, just to keep the deer population standing still. Landowners cull deer on their land during a set season, as part of deer management plans, which take into account the welfare of the animals as well as the damage they cause to woodlands and crops.
If I was a meat-eater, I would rather eat a wild deer that has been shot humanely, whose population levels are causing problems for our local environment, than eat any farmed animal. If you do eat meat, look out for local venison at your butchers and get to know your local landowners who may be culling deer on their land and have venison to sell.
The Sustainability Centre in Hampshire is running a Deer Butchery Masterclass on Sunday 19th June, where participants can learn how to butcher a whole deer for themselves and cook it on a campfire. For further details, see: www.sustainability-centre.org/deer-butchery-course.html
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