Fair Game targets greater consumption of venison
Published:  11 March, 2013

A new initiative aimed at encouraging more people to eat wild venison has been launched in the UK.

The Fair Game initiative, launched in partnership between the University of Nottingham and the National Trust, is an educational project that will explain the history of Britain’s fallow deer and the benefits of eating venison.

Dr Naomi Sykes, of the University’s Department of Archaeology, who is leading the project, said: "We believe that, rather than being a ‘problem’, deer are a wonderful resource – if only we could reconnect with the concept of venison. At a time when locally sourced, seasonal, healthy and ethical foods are at the top of consumers’ wish-lists — particularly in the wake of the horsemeat scandal — wild venison ticks every box. Wild deer, or those that have not been supplementary fed, provide exceptionally lean venison and, most importantly, you don’t get a more free-range and ‘happy’ meat."

The initiative will begin by tracing the origins of fallow deer at the National Trust’s Charlecote Park property, producing literature for visitors, which tells the story of Charlecote’s deer and promotes the benefits of venison, which is already on sale in the park’s shop.

Lisa Topham, park and garden manager at Charlecote Park, said: "There has been a deer herd here at Charlecote Park since the 14th century and they are an important part of the landscapes of large, historic estates throughout the country. We take the welfare of our deer extremely seriously here, and we’re proud to have won awards for the condition of the herd. While we need to control the numbers of deer to keep the herd healthy and happy, nothing is wasted, as we sell the meat from the culled deer in our shop."

It is hoped the initiative will eventually be rolled on to the other National Trust properties with fallow deer herds.

Deer populations out of control

The launch of the project comes as a survey of roe and muntjac deer in Norfolk and Suffolk, conducted by the University of East Anglia (UEA), revealed that deer numbers have reached their highest level since the Ice Age. Researchers concluded that deer populations were expanding in the absence of natural predators, with current cull targets too low to control populations sufficiently.

They recommended that 1,864 muntjac out of 3,516 (53%) and 1,327 roe deer out 2,211 (60%) should be culled to bring populations under control, which greatly exceeds previous cull recommendations of 30% for muntjac and 20% for roe deer.

Lead researcher Dr Paul Dolman, from the UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: "Deer management is often based on guesswork. This is the first time a population has been quantified and studied in terms of how the deer are breeding – to measure the effectiveness of deer management."

Warning that deer threaten woodland diversity, carry diseases such as Lymes, cause damage to crops and cause road traffic accidents if numbers are not properly managed, Dr Kristin Wäber, who conducted the study while a PhD student at UEA, said: "Current approaches to deer management are failing to contain the problem – often because numbers are being underestimated. Cull targets are often too low."