The 2020 Coronavirus pandemic has affected people’s daily lives all across the world. To fight the virus world leaders implemented many restrictions on how people can gather and what they can do. These restrictions hit small businesses especially hard with restaurants taking the brunt.
These restrictions also have had effects on wildlife populations. Not so much in the United state where hunting has continued pretty close to normal, but across the pond in the United Kingdom hunting has almost ground to a halt and it is now causing an ecological crisis.
The United States and the UK have very different laws when it comes to hunting. The two main distinctions are that in in the UK landowners own the wildlife and are allowed to sell the meat. In the US the people own the wildlife and because of the Lacy Act the selling of wild meat is forbidden.
In the UK, these differences have led to a wild meat becoming economically profitable for landowners to sell meat, venison in particular, to restaurants. Unfortunately the governments restrictions on restaurants have led to the demand for wild venison to plummet.
In turn, the landowners are not culling as many deer as in the past and populations have exploded and according to The Guardian, “Could soon pose a threat to woodlands and important wildlife habitats in Britain”
Currently wild deer populations in Britain sit around 2 million, which is the largest it has been in close to 1,000 years. Wild game chef and restaurant owner, Mike Robinson estimates that only 20% of the normal culling is taking place and is directly responsible for the population boom.
“Many restaurants, including mine, serve venison,” he said. “About 80% of the wild deer harvested in the UK goes to restaurants or the hospitality trade. But that sector is really struggling right now and demand has fallen through the floor.”
Britain’s deer population has grown by 600,000 between May and June, and without hunters to control their numbers they will likely have a devastating affect on their habitat.
“If you’ve got lots and lots of deer then you tend to get more uniform habitats where there are fewer niches for the other species,” he said. “That’s the big issue.”Gareth Fisher, an RSPB ecologist, said, “We very much appreciate that deer are an important part of the ecosystem, but the deer population needs to be sustainable. There are no natural predators that are going to keep the deer population in balance so humans have to take on that role.”
The problem has become so bad that working groups have been set up to find a way to deal with the problem. The one solution they have come up with for people to eat more venison.
“If the public eats more venison then this problem will naturally start to go away because the price will go up,” Robinson explained. “There will then be more incentive to shoot deer.”
He also stresses that this type of culling is not “sport”, but “management,” and is absoulutly nessessary for managing the landscape.
Before the pandemic, Britain had a sustainable wildlife management program. It only took a year of limited hunting before deer began to affect their environment in a negative way. This is proof positive that hunting is extremely necessary, especially in areas where there are few natural predators.
Deer populations in the United States are right around 33.5 million and have remained fairly steady for the last few decades. Hunters kill on average 6 million deer a year. Imagine if all hunting was stopped. In a few years, deer would overgrow their environment and eat all available food. Once all available food is gone deer would starve and populations would tank.
In my book, Why We Hunt: The Five Motivations of the Modern Hunter, I talk about this and other reasons hunting is still important in the modern world. Stories like these highlight this fact again and again. Hunting is necessary, ethical, and good for the plant when it is done sustainably. The book is available on Amazon.