Road traffic accidents involving deer present a major problem in the UK as well as in many other countries in Europe. For example, in Germany over 220,000 traffic collisions occur annually involving deer, over 1000 of which lead to human injuries and around 20 to human fatalities.
In the UK there is no system for central collation of road traffic accidents involving deer or other wildlife, and firm statistics on the scale of the problem in this country remain unavailable. However, a pilot survey commissioned by Highways England in 1997 based on retrospective data estimated that the number of deer killed annually in traffic collisions in the UK was already between 30,000 and 40,000.
A fuller study commenced in 2003, again with lead funding from Highways England, based on sample data collected annually from a range of organisations and individuals; this reaffirms that the annual number of deer killed on injured on UK roads is likely to exceed 40,000 and may well be nearer 74,000.
Such deer related traffic accidents have a considerable impact:
- They present one of the main causes of mortality among wild populations of deer
- They pose a major animal welfare issue, because a high proportion of deer which are hit by cars are not killed outright: many have to be put down at the roadside, while others escape to die later of their injuries
- They pose a safety hazard to road users, and lead to substantial damage to cars and numerous human injuries as well as a number of human fatalities in most years
A National System for recording collisions
Highways England and Scottish Natural Heritage, together with Welsh Government are continuing to help fund current research, to develop a stratified national system for recording and monitoring information on the location and frequency of deer related road traffic incidents occurring throughout Great Britain.
This research is now building up an extensive database of reported incidents to provide a basis for analysing the true scale and key factors associated with occurrence of deer - vehicle accidents. This will also help us to identify present and aid prediction of future locations of high deer accident risk, and investigate the relative effectiveness of existing methods of accident mitigation.
Complementary field research projects have been completed and others are planned to assess the effectiveness of differing preventative measures such as optical and acoustic wildlife warning reflectors and fences, use of Variable Driver Awareness Message Signs, and to assess aspects of deer behaviour and deer management which are relevant to improving the design of mitigation aimed at reducing traffic collisions.
Previous attempts to build a picture of the full extent and geographical distribution of deer-related road traffic accidents in the UK have been hampered by the need to rely on retrospective abstraction of records.
Even if retrievable, records on deer-related incidents have tended to be maintained in a very incomplete and inconsistent manner by a variety of potential sources for such information [e.g. Police, County Councils, Local authority road/carcass clearance departments, RSPCA, wildlife hospitals, insurance companies, forest rangers, private deer stalkers etc.