How does the law protect deer?

Deer are protected by the Deer Act 1991, an important piece of legislation which criminalises various activities. These include poaching deer, killing deer, and the use of ammunition in hunting deer.

Poaching of Deer

It is a criminal offence to go 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 intend to take, kill, injure deer, or to attempt to do so. It’s also illegal to remove the carcass of a deer, without the consent of the owner or occupier of the land (or by other lawful authority).

Where a person is charged with one of these offences, it is a defence if the defendant believed they would have had consent if the owner/occupier knew what they were doing, and the circumstances in which they were doing it.

Where it is suspected that someone is committing an offence, they can be required to leave the land immediately and to give their full name and address. Failing to do is also a criminal offence.

Taking or killing 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 close seasons are currently:

  • 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 April to 31 October
  • Roe deer bucks: 1 November to 31 March
  • Roe deer does: 1 April to 31 October
  • Sika deer stags: 1 April to 31 October
  • Sika deer hinds: 1 April to 31 October

There is an exception 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.

Note that the Secretary of State has the power to make an order adding, varying or deleting the close seasons under the Deer Act 1991.

Taking or killing 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 or snare, or to use poisoned or stupefying bait intended to cause injury to any deer coming into contact with it, or to use such methods for the purpose of taking or killing a deer (or to attempt to do so). It’s also illegal to use certain firearms or ammunition as set out in the Act (unless the owner has given written permission to do so from a vehicle), as well as other specific weapons and articles, such as spears and arrows.

What defences are available?

If someone is charged with an offence under the Deer Act 1991, the following defences are available:

  • the act was in pursuance of a requirement by the Minister of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
  • the act was to prevent the suffering of an injured or diseased deer
  • killing the deer was an act of mercy– but where a smooth-bore gun was used and the deer had been seriously injured (not by that person’s act) or was in a serious condition
  • where, in the case of the slaughtering of a deer, the person uses certain other types of smooth-bore guns
  • where the person has a licence granted by Natural England

Various defences are, however, available to occupiers of land, as well as members of their household, and their employees, and others who have the right to take or kill deer on land.

What powers do the police have under the Deer Act 1991?

The police have the power to stop and search a person, and any vehicle, animal, weapon or other thing the person may be using, if there are reasonable grounds to believe an offence under the Act has been or is being committed.

The police also have the power to seize and detain any deer, venison, vehicle, animal, weapon (or other thing relating to the offence)as evidence. The police also have power to sell any deer or venison seized.

They also have power to enter land (unless it is a dwelling house) without a warrant, in the exercise of their powers under the Act, or when arresting a person for an offence under the Act.

What powers does the court have under the Deer Act 1991?

The penalty for these offences is a maximum level 4 fine and/or, in some cases, imprisonment of up to 3 months.

The Court also has the power to order the forfeiture of any deer or venison in relation to the offence, and any vehicle, animal, weapon, etc, which was used to commit the office (or could have been used to take, kill or injure deer).

In some case, the Court also has the power to cancel any firearm or shotgun certificate held by a person.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.