Deer

Why are deer an issue?

Deer, whether they be described as feral or wild, are a species that were introduced to Australia by the Acclimatisation Society back in the 1800s for hunting.

Further deer have been released into the environment since then, assisted by escapes and releases from deer farms. Deer species currently occupy around 37% of Victoria.

Whilst currently protected on public land under the Wildlife Act as a Game species, they are unprotected on private land where they frequently cause damage to plants and property. 

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Impacts on the environment

The impacts of deer are widespread and extremely concerning.

Deer compete with our native fauna and with farmed stock for feed; they modify habitat; spread diseases and pathogens and weed seeds; they alter water quality; can cause erosion and compaction of soils; alter nutrient cycling, and; may also change plant communities through selective browsing. These all have a significant impact on our environment and its biodiversity.

In areas of Yarra Ranges, deer are:

  • Over-browsing and causing the destruction of ground and mid-storey vegetation. This is significantly reducing the presence of native flora species, including several threatened species and is significantly reducing habitat conditions for critically-endangered species like the Helmeted Honeyeater.
  • Destroying saplings and seriously damaging tree health by rubbing against tree trunks and eating bark, causing ringbark.
  • Damaging waterways with their hard hooves and wallowing, which is causing erosion and reducing water quality. Waterways can also be harmed by deer droppings, which can contain the cryptosporidium parasite. This parasite can be harmful for humans.

Unfortunately, public resources are not yet available at the scale required to control deer across the entire landscape and so far, efforts are being targeted towards key conservation assets. 

Impacts on the community

Deer are fast becoming one of the most significant threats faced by residents, agriculturalists, natural bushland managers and all tiers of government.

Their size and mobility are an issue, as they can easily access most gardens and crops, along with increasing collision risks on roads – particularly at night, when visibility is poor.

In Yarra Ranges, deer can cause damage to vineyards, orchards and rural grazing livelihoods. Fences can be damaged, along with crops and vines, which has a significant impact on agribusinesses.

Deer are large animals that can move quickly – and can cause significant damage to vehicles if involved in a car accident. 

Deer management and control

In late 2020, the State Government released a new Victorian Deer Control Strategy which can be found here.

Current options to reduce deer impacts in home gardens, farms and bushland include:

  • Fencing
  • Restricting access to water
  • Harbour management
  • Deterrents
  • Shooting (removal)

Deer-proof fencing restricts wildlife movement generally and therefore is not ideal in many situations, except smaller exclusion zones.

The State Government is also developing a localised Peri-Urban Melbourne Deer Control Plan, to recognise and address the impacts of deer in areas such as Yarra Ranges.

Council is well represented in this process and advocating for funding and resources for deer control in our municipality. This plan is likely to be released later this year (2021) and we are hopeful that funding will be directed into Yarra Ranges through this plan. 

What can landowners do?

Managing deer on private land can be difficult, but there are some things you can do to stop deer wandering onto your property, or remove them.

To minimise impacts from deer, landowners can:

  • Consider deer exclusion fencing, to stop them gaining access
  • Survey your land for signs of deer impacts and record it. You can use the DeerScan app to record sightings and damage. The data from this app is accessed by Councils to form a clear picture of where deer are congregating and moving over the seasons, including how numbers are changing over time. This data is crucial for our work and advocacy to State Government agencies for more support on deer issues.
  • Contact Council, a landcare group or a deer action group to find fencing contractors, professional deer controllers/harvesters and game meat processors, who can assist with removing deer
  • Make a private agreement to manage deer impacts on land by using a professional deer harvesting contractor on a regular basis, particularly during times where agricultural activities (such as crop growing) requires protection
  • Speak with neighbours to form or join a local deer action group or landcare group. 

What is Council doing to help manage deer?

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) is the managing authority for wildlife in Victoria, including deer.

In 2019, DELWP provided funding to work on local deer management under its Biodiversity Response Planning Grant. In 2021, more funding was provided to Council through DELWP’s Peri-Urban Weed Management Partnership Initiative.

Council is delivering a DELWP-funded pilot deer control program, focusing on threats to biodiversity along the Yellingbo corridor – the last remaining habitat for the Helmeted Honeyeater and the lowland Leadbeater’s Possum.

As part of this pilot program, Council is working to reduce deer numbers on public and private land, using professional deer controllers. This work will also focus on removing invasive weed species which can damage habitats of native wildlife.

We’re also working with Knox Council, Parks Victoria, DELWP and community groups to reduce deer numbers in areas such as The Basin, with more programs to commence across Yarra Ranges in coming months. All deer removal work involves working closely with our contractors, community members and Victoria Police, with Council ensuring all procedures are followed.

Council is also developing a Biodiversity Plan, to ensure evidence-based decisions are made to all matters relating to preserving and enhancing local biodiversity.

Importantly, we’re also supporting and advocating for more research into deer, to assist all land managers with more understanding of deer population density, dynamics and movement patterns. We’re hoping more research will result in alternative and supplementary control measures, but numerous approaches are needed to have impact on deer numbers and protect the local environment.

Yarra Ranges staff participate in the Melbourne Eastern Region Deer Network and Victorian Deer Control Community Network – which involves many Local Governments and related bodies such as Landcare and Melbourne Water. These groups are working to lobby the State Government for more action in the region and further funding – including a review of the Wildlife Act 1975 to change the protected game status afforded to deer. 

Advice and support

The Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) is the managing authority for wildlife in Victoria, including deer.

Council employs a Coordinator of Biodiversity Conservation. They can give you specific advice on how to manage deer on your property or how to work with your neighbours to control deer in the local area.

Contact us on 1300 368 333 or at mail@yarraranges.vic.gov.au if you have any questions about Council’s work in this space.

For more information about deer management, we suggest contacting the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) on 136 186 or visit their website.  

Further resources

The State Government has prepared a Victorian Deer Strategy, which outlines the issues deer pose and what's being done in this space.

Council has produced a Deer Management booklet, which also contains useful information.

FeralScan is a community pest animal recording and management tool, where you can record pest animal activity locally. Find out more on the  FeralScan website.

How to use FeralScan