What is the law that governs the protection of deer?
Deer are protected by the Deer Act 1991.
How does the Deer Act 1991 protect deer?
The Deer Act 1991 created the following criminal offences:
Poaching of deer
It is a criminal offence to enter onto land without the consent of the owner or occupier or other lawful authority in search or pursuit of deer with the intention of taking, killing or injuring it.
It is also a criminal offence to intentionally take, kill or injure or to attempt to take, kill or injure deer; or search for or pursue deer with the intention of taking, killing or injuring it; or to remove the carcase of a deer, without the consent of the owner or occupier of the land or other lawful authority.
Where a person is charged with one of these criminal offences they will have a defence if he believed that he would have the consent of the owner or occupier of the land if the owner or occupier knew what he was doing and the circumstances in which he was doing it. It is also a defence where a person has other lawful authority to do it.
Where it is suspected that a person is committing one of these offences they can be required to leave the land immediately and give their full name and address. If they fail to do so they will commit a further criminal offence.
Taking or killing of certain deer in close season
It is a criminal offence to take or intentionally kill certain deer in close season or to attempt to do so. These are as follows:
- Red deer stags: 1 May to 31 July;
- Red deer hinds: 1 March to 31 October;
- Fallow deer bucks: 1 May to 31 July;
- Fallow deer does: 1 March to 31 October;
- Roe deer bucks: 1 November to 31 March;
- Roe deer does: 1 March to 31 October;
- Sika deer stags: 1 May to 31 July;
- Sika deer hinds: 1 March to 31 October.
An exception is made for businesses who keep deer in enclosed land for the production of meat or other foodstuffs or skins or other by-products, or as breeding stock. However, such deer have to be conspicuously marked so that they can be identified.
The Secretary of State has the power to make an order adding, varying or by deleting the close seasons specified by the Deer Act 1991.
Taking or killing of deer at night
It is a criminal offence to take or intentionally kill deer between the expiry of the first hour after sunset and the beginning of the last hour before sunrise or to attempt to do so.
Use of prohibited weapons and other articles
It is a criminal offence to set a trap, snare, or poisoned or stupefying bait calculated to cause injury to any deer coming into contact with it or to use one of these methods for the purpose of taking or killing a deer or to attempt to do so.
It is also a criminal offence to use certain firearms or ammunition set out in the act and certain other weapons and articles or to attempt to do so.
It is a criminal offence to discharge a firearm or project a missile at deer from a vehicle or to attempt to do so unless the person has the written authority of the occupier of the land.
What defences are available?
Where a person is charged with an offence under the Deer Act 1991 the following defences are available:
- that the act was done in pursuance of a requirement by the Minister of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs;
- that the act was done to prevent the suffering of an injured or diseased deer;
- where a smooth-bore gun is used, if the deer had been so seriously injured otherwise than by that person’s act, or was in such a condition, that to kill it was an act of mercy;
- where in the case of the slaughtering of a deer, the person uses certain other types of smooth-bore guns;
- there are certain defences available to occupiers of land, members of their household, their employees and persons who have the right to take or kill deer on land;
- where the person has a licence granted by English Nature.
What powers does the Deer Act 1991 give to the police?
Under the Deer Act 1991 the police have the power to stop and search a person and search and examine any vehicle, animal, weapon or other thing that that person may be using where there is reasonable grounds to believe that an offence under that Act has been or is being committed.
The Deer Act 1991 gives the police the power to seize and detain as evidence any deer, venison, vehicle, animal, weapon or other thing relating to the offence and the power to sell any deer or venison seized.
The Deer Act 1991 gives the police the power to enter onto any land other than a dwelling house without the need for obtaining a warrant when exercising their powers under the Act or when arresting a person for an offence under the Act.
What powers does the Deer Act 1991 give to the Courts?
The penalty for committing one of the offences set out above is a fine and, in some cases, imprisonment.
The Court also has the power to order the forfeiture of any deer or venison in respect of which the offence was committed and any vehicle, animal, weapon or other thing which was used to commit the office or which was capable of being used to take, kill or injure deer.
In certain circumstances the Court also has the power to cancel any firearm or shotgun certificate held by a person.