You may have seen some coverage in today’s newspapers about the management of deer at our reserve in Arne, Dorset, in 2010/11, in a story orchestrated by “You Forgot the Birds”. Here is the RSPB’s response in full:

Over the last decade the sika deer population in Purbeck, Dorset, has increased to a point where the numbers had to be reduced to prevent damage to sites, like the RSPB’s Arne reserve, and to prevent the animals starving as there was insufficient food for such a large herd.

The need to cull deer is a matter of last resort for the RSPB. When it is necessary we insist on high standards of professionalism, especially relating to animal welfare.

In many cases we are required by the regulator – in this case Natural England - to reduce deer numbers to prevent damage to internationally-important sites. We work within guidelines of the Deer Initiative (http://www.thedeerinitiative.co.uk/)

In 2005, the RSPB employed a local deer stalker – Mr Johnny O’Brien - to reduce the number of deer on site. Because of the well-known threat to human and wildlife health and environmental issues surrounding the use of lead, in 2009, the RSPB began a phased change to copper ammunition at all sites where deer numbers need to be reduced. Mr O’Brien agreed to change from the 2010/11 season.

Despite no problems occurring at other RSPB sites across the UK with the transition to copper ammunition, backed up by a scientific trial, it appeared that Mr O’Brien had an issue. It was revealed that Mr O’Brien was using a caliber of weapon that was too small for copper to be effective, compared with lead. Mr O’Brien was asked to make the switch. Although meeting some resistance from Mr O’Brien, he made the change after which there were no further problems reported.

Two years ago, the RSPB invited deer stalkers to tender competitively for the Arne contract. The new contractor has been using copper ammunition without issue, in common with other sites.

Gwyn Williams, RSPB Head of Reserves, said: “The RSPB became aware that Mr O’Brien’s preferred use of a small caliber rifle with our requested use of copper ammunition was an issue, and we asked him to change rifle. There has been no subsequent problem at Arne or any other RSPB site.

“The use of lead ammunition is a serious issue.  As the venison often enters the human food chain, we have a duty of care to consumers. We followed the guidance of states like California, which banned the use of lead ammunition based on these concerns.”

The RSPB advises its contractors to only make a shot if there is no risk to people or other wildlife. Using this guidance, the RSPB does not believe that ricochet is a particular problem.