Pest & Disease Management - Roe, fallow and muntjac deer

Young shoots on plants are susceptible to grazing damage while bucks' antlers can harm bark.

Young shoots are susceptible to grazing damage - image: Morguefile
Young shoots are susceptible to grazing damage - image: Morguefile

As development encroaches on their habitat, deer are becoming more of an issue on commercial nursery sites. Even where deer are managed as part of the landscape, new plantings and important specimen trees need protection against grazing damage to young shoots and damage to bark from bucks' antlers.

Only red and roe deer are native, but fallow, roe and muntjac are the species most likely to be encountered in all but upland UK regions. Fencing remains the key defence. Few experts have faith in chemical, natural odour or mechanical deterrents. The British Deer Society recommends a regular walk around your property with a dog off its lead as a very effective deterrent. Lion dung and sheep droppings may also be effective.

Culling may be a last resort in areas with large deer populations. If your neighbour is a major landowner or forestry authority, they may consider targeting their own routine culls close to your property if you are experiencing problems. A list of "deer-resistant" plants is available ( but is only a guide to those least favoured by the animals - hungry deer eat anything.

Deer ticks can carry Lyme's disease - a potential health and safety issue. They may be present on vegetation in areas frequented by deer and will attach themselves to bare skin if you brush against them. Wear long trousers and socks as protection.

How to recognise them

Roe (Capreolus capreolus) are shoulder height up to 0.75m. Adult coat is reddish-brown in summer and grey or pale brown in winter. Females have a white rump. They have short, three-pointed antlers and a bounding gait when alarmed.

Fallow (Cama dama) are shoulder height around 0.9m. Coat colour is usually tan to fawn with white spots. Palm-shaped antlers.

Muntjac (Muntiacus reevesi) are fox-sized, 0.5m shoulder-height but with higher haunches. Russet brown summer coat, grey-brown in winter. Black markings on head. Short, unbranched antlers.


- Shoots and stems are bitten through, leaving a clean mark on one side and a ragged edge the other - a result of their lack of incisors on the upper jaw. Rodents leave sharp tooth marks on both sides.

- Look for tracks to confirm or to trace entry points.

- Damage is most common on new, succulent spring growth or in winter, when other food sources are scarce.

- Fallow deer are fond of roses and tree shoots in early spring and summer. They may strip bark from trees and shrubs in winter.

Treatment: culling

Expert advice is essential, owing to health and safety and animal welfare legislation. The British Deer Society can provide qualified local contacts. Operators should have recognised qualifications, the most important being the British Association for Shooting & Conservation's Deer Stalking Certificate Level 1.

In England and Wales, closed seasons protect lactating females with young. Timings vary according to species and there is no closed season for muntjac. Scotland has different rules. Local qualified operators can advise. Legislation includes the Deer Act (1991), Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 and Deer (Firearms) (Scotland) Order 1985.

Culling is unlikely to be a safe option in populated areas because of the health and safety risks implied by the use of high-velocity rifles.

Treatment: deterrents

1 Grazers from Complete Horticulture is a solution that can be sprayed at any growth stage effectively from early crop emergence, though it lasts longest while the crop is active - spring/summer and early autumn.

2 Electronic scarers emit a high-pitched sound that is inaudible to humans, triggered by an infrared beam. These tend to have a limited range and are more effective when used around likely entry points.

Treatment: physical barriers

Forestry Commission guidance suggests a minimum deer fence height of 1.5m as the best compromise between cost and effectiveness, but some experts recommend 2m for maximum protection. If a boundary fence around the whole property is too expensive, consider fencing to protect specific areas, such as nursery beds or new plantings.

Dig in rabbit fencing at the bottom to help protect against burrowing muntjac. American advice suggests that a fence slanting outwards at the top by approximately 30 degs acts as an additional psychological barrier against jumping. High-tensile plastic hexagonal mesh is an effective option for temporary, reusable protection.

Electric fencing can be cheaper than a standard deer fence. Systems should give a strong jolt (3,000 to 4,000 volts), which has health and safety implications - standard yellow warning triangles must be fitted. While effective for fallow deer, roe or muntjac are more likely to avoid two runs of electric fence offset at 0.3m and 0.6m from a standard rabbit fence.

Individual tree guards can effectively protect new amenity or parkland trees but must extend above browsing reach of about 1.2m. In parkland where deer are managed as a landscape feature, larger, more robust guards are needed to protect the bark of mature trees.

Fully updated by Dove Associates.

Use plant protection products safely. Always read the label and product information before use.

Dove Associates shall in no event be liable for the loss or damage to any crops or biological control agents caused by the use of products mentioned.

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