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The Ultimate Guide to UK Deer Fences (& Alternatives)

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The Ultimate Guide to UK Deer Fences (& Alternatives)

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This is the complete guide to keeping deer off your land or out of your garden, whether using a deterrent or a fence. 

We’ve got clear and simple recommendations, based on scientific research, and information from DEFRA, the Forestry Commission and The British Deer Society. 

Why Do I Need a Deer Fence When Planting Trees?

Our natural world is out of balance. Without predators to keep deer populations in check, these tree-nibbling herbivores have bred until their populations are too high for the UK landscape to support them.

In true wilderness, trees grow up from tiny seedlings, sometimes protected by thorny scrub. In our world, with overgrazing by deer, the seedlings or saplings are chewed away before these trees have a chance to get established. If a tree survives this early stage, deer will eat its bark and strip off its foliage, leaving it with little chance to reach its full potential. 

Protective scrub habitat is also often cleared and burned by humans, or grazed away. This means tree planting projects in the UK usually need to be protected from deer while they get established (and these areas may be more biodiverse in the long term with continued protection), but protection doesn’t necessarily mean a fence…

10 Alternatives to a Deer Fence

Most deer are large animals, and tend to be pretty smart – as a result, good boundaries need to be strong and foolproof, which is expensive. There are some shortcuts to keeping deer off your land or out of your garden, but these tend be short-lasting, fairly ineffective or have nasty side effects.

Here’s a list of deer fence alternatives, ordered from best to worst (in our opinion!):

4/5 – a sustainable approach with potential for public concern

Creating seasonal employment for hunters, associated jobs in the food industry, and reducing our dependence on fossil fuel-intensive livestock production, wild meat has a lot of potential. Our deer population is unnaturally high, with no large carnivores to control their numbers – and introducing big predators to our farming communities is not a feasible solution.

So, hunting is an important part of a rewilding approach to controlling deer populations, without putting up barriers to animal movement. A vegetarian myself, I’m still happy with the idea of eating an animal that has led a wild life, with a natural diet, free to roam the countryside. Harvesting deer at sustainable levels is also a way to make conservation pay for itself.

4/5 – protects early growth but alternatives to plastic aren’t as good.

These are such a standard feature of our landscape that you might not even notice them anymore, but there’s a lot of variety when it comes to these plastic tubes that enclose a growing tree. The shape can influence the way that a tree grows out and newer guards are being researched which can biodegrade. However, the likelihood is that you’ll be using plastic, as newer, non-plastic versions are not very reliable, even from major manufacturers.

Obviously, with it being plastic, there are environmental impacts, includes shedding microplastics into local water systems. However, tree guards are a proven way of reducing deer damage to trees in their first few years of life. They will need removing and recycling when the tree gets bigger, after which it will again be vulnerable to deer damage.

Tree guards aren’t always a great solution when you coppice the trees, as they’ll cycle in and out of a young growth state, which makes them very vulnerable to browsing. However, you can scatter thorny brash over the stumps to mitigate this impact.

3/5 – prevents individual tree damage in parkland long term, but costly

Small enclosures made from wooden stakes and wire mesh bridge the gap between a fence and a fence alternative, but they are a well-established solution for protecting isolated trees from deer damage in the long term.


A more attractive version of these are the ornate black ironwork cylinders that you find in some parks, commonly described as ‘parkland tree guards’. In woodland, these are more expensive per tree than fencing the perimeter of a site and they make the landscape look less natural.

3/5 – effective long term with constant patrols across an area

Perhaps this might seem obvious to you if you already own a dog, but dogs can be used to scare deer away from an area. This is a higher effort method unless you’re protecting an area already connected to a house, but a 1994 study found that dogs were an efficient way to protect a tree plantation. A 2021 study used dog barking alongside deer alarm calls to scare deer away from an area, and a 2008 study found that they can be used to prevent deer from stealing cattle feed.

As with most other items in this list, the effect decreases with distance, so regular patrols or a free-ranging animal is necessary to keep deer away.

2/5 – effective for a few weeks only in small areas

While the deterrents you can buy online tend to be ultrasound emitters, the sounds used in scientific studies seem to be mainly deer alarm calls. A 2004 study found that regular use of a deer alarm call is not effective, as deer quickly get used to the sound, even when it’s only triggered by their movement with IR detectors.

The standard garden IR detectors which play a deer-scaring tone were tested in a well-designed 2019 study. While there was a significant reduction in deer passing through a small boundary gap at first, this effect, like with the alarm calls, wore off over time.

2/5 – very effective only when applied regularly to all foliage

There are a variety of deer repellent sprays on the market, including one spray, Big Game Repellent, which has featured in several peer-reviewed studies, though effectiveness ranged from 100% to 0% effectiveness depending on the conditions! The same manufacturer sells Deer Off Weatherproof Deer Repellent in the UK market, though reviews of the product are mixed.

A component in baby milk, hydrolysed casein, is a cheaper way of deterring deer when sprayed onto plants in a 12% concentration with water. A 2006 study found it to be extremely effective at deterring deer and cheap to make, but every branch had to be coated with the substance, and it left a ‘white or cream coloured’ residue on vegetation.

For any deer repellent to be effective, scientists say it must be applied directly to branches, and reapplied regularly. This makes any repellent a time-intensive and potentially costly solution.

2/5 – moderate effect, needs applying to every plant

The smell of certain soaps seems to deter deer when they’re present at low densities. This is backed up by a 1990 study in the US, though the effect was only a 40% reduction in damage within 1m of Ivory Soap. People who still use this method recommend cutting up Irish Spring soap and sprinkling it around any plants or trees you wish to protect. This will need to be topped up frequently to keep it fresh.

SFGate suggest a different method, hanging soap from trees 2m off the ground, within 1m of the plant or tree you wish to protect.

While there is scientific evidence for this solution, it’s going to be hard to do at large scales, becoming time consuming. Every tree needs its own soap repellent, so this is not a boundary system.

2/5 – moderate effect, needs applying to every plant

Hanging balls of human hair around your trees might not sound like a particularly sane thing to do, but there is data showing that it can reduce deer damage. The balls are 10-15cm wide and hang about 1m or less from the ground on the trees you want to protect. A 1987 study found that this reduced deer damage by about 30% – whether that’s enough to justify being ‘that person who has human hair balls hanging from their trees’? Well, that’s up to you!

A less creepy method of using human hair which is reported to work on internet forums involves spreading it around the base of plants. Hair is biodegradable, but be aware that it may contain harmful chemicals from hair or cleaning products if it’s sourced from a hairdressers’ shop.

1/5 – weak effect requiring regular retreatment

Some people suggest that you get the male members of your family to urinate around your property. However, the evidence for human urine (or even faeces – yes, really) is anecdotal, and many landowners say that deer get used to it over time.

Another suggested solution is buying predator urine or the chemicals found within it. A 2014 study tested how effective pyrazine (a component of wolf urine) was to deter Hokkaido deer feeding behaviour. However, the trial was very unnatural, covering a sheet in the deterrent chemical, on which the food was placed. Even then, some deer continued to browse on this food, though the numbers were lower than the sheet without pyrazine.

So, although wolf urine and other predator urine products are available online, they are unlikely to be very effective.

0/5 – dangerous and ineffective

Some people use sharpened stakes driven into the ground at an angle or behind low fences to prevent deers coming onto their property. As one commenter points out, removing a half-dead, skewered animal from a stake isn’t pleasant for you or the animal. This method is also dangerous for any humans in the area and could land easily land you in court for recklessly endangering the public.

UK Deer Species: Facts & Fences

According to the British Deer Society, there are 6 types of UK deer living wild in our countryside. We’ve put together a fact file for each species, including a map and fence specs, so you can answer that crucial question; ‘how high can deer jump?’.

Quickly jump to the relevant UK deer species with this menu:

Roe Deer UK Distribution Map

Roe Deer

Capreolus capreolus

Distribution: The most widespread of the UK deer, except in Northern Ireland, these deer are most common at the edge of woodland.

Size: 75cm at shoulder

Diet: Roe deer eat tree shoots and leaves, climbers like brambles and ivy, alongside less woody plants like herbs.

Fence Height: 120cm for enclosed areas less than 6 acres in size, 150cm for larger areas.

Max. Mesh Size: 20cm x 15cm

Sources: British Deer Society, Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission.

Red Deer
Red Deer UK Distribution Map

Red Deer

Cervus elaphus

Distribution: A native deer species, widespread in the Highlands, SW and other scattered pockets.

Size: 135cm at shoulder

Diet: Red deer mainly eat grass, though they will also consume tree shoots, reeds and rushes, shrubs and herbs.

Fence Height: 180cm

Max. Mesh Size: 22cm x 30cm

Sources: British Deer Society, Woodland Trust, DEFRA.

Fallow Deer
Fallow deer distribution map

Fallow Deer

Dama dama

Distribution: A widespread non-native deer that lives in woodland and agricultural land.

Size: 90cm at shoulder

Diet: Fallow deer eat grass, leaves and herbs in summer and tree bark, fungi, nuts and fruit in winter.

Fence Height: 150cm

Max. Mesh Size: 22cm x 20cm

Sources: British Deer Society, Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission.

Muntjac Deer
Muntjac Deer UK Distribution Map

Chinese/Reeves’ Muntjac

Muntiacus reevesi

Distribution: Rapidly spreading across the UK, generally found in scrubby woodland or overgrown gardens.

Size: 50cm at shoulder

Diet: Muntjac are not picky, eating many different trees, shrubs, plants, nuts, fruits and fungi.

Fence Height: 150cm with 15cm horizontal overlap across the soil at the base, pegged down to resist digging.

Max. Mesh Size: 7.5cm x 7.5cm – their heads get stuck in fences of 10cm x 10cm so 7.5cm is recommended.

Sources: British Deer Society, Woodland Trust, Forestry Commission, DEFRA.

Sika deer
Sika Deer UK Distribution Map

Sika Deer

Cervus nippon

Distribution: Spreading across Scotland, with smaller number elsewhere, living in coniferous woodland and acid heathland.

Size: 95cm at shoulder

Diet: Mainly grasses and heather, only occasionally eating tree shoots and bark.

Fence Height: 180cm

Max. Mesh Size: 22cm x 30cm

Sources: British Deer Society, Woodland Trust, DEFRA.

Chinese Water Deer

Image credit: "Chinese water deer with two fawns" by Nick Goodrum is licensed under CC BY- 2.0

Chinese Water Deer UK Distribution Map

Chinese Water Deer

Hydropotes inermis inermis 

Distribution: Low density population, restricted to wet ground, woodland and fields.

Size: 55cm at shoulder

Diet: No impact on trees – mainly eat small amounts of herbs, and occasionally some root crops and grasses.

Fence Height: 150cm

Max. Mesh Size: 7.5cm x 7.5cm

Sources: British Deer Society, Suddenstrike.

Which Material is Best for Deer Fencing?

You can buy deer fences as whole systems, or as posts, with separate fencing materials. Here, we give an overview of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each fencing material, ordered from best to worst (in our opinion):

Considered the best type of deer fence, these can last 30-40 years according to a 2006 review. They’re designed to follow the contours of the land, with the elasticity to bounce back from collisions, making them more durable than other wire fences. The wires can be pinned onto pressure-treated wooden posts or hung on metal stakes like the premium Triple X system.

Regular electric fence is not very effective at stopping deer – they may push through or jump over it despite the charge. However, a 1.45m 5-wire high tensile fence with the first wire 25cm from the ground (‘Penn State 5-wire design’) was shown to stop all deer intrusions in a 1985 study. High tensile wire resists the deer while simultaneously delivering the shock. This same design was also found to be effective in other trials according to a 2006 review.

Usually constructed in two layers, to attain the correct height, this can be an expensive option, but like woven wire, it has a good lifespan (2006 review). However, it’s not as flexible, making it harder to adapt to contours and less likely to return to its original shape after an impact.

Snow fencing, which is made of a robust polypropylene mesh, can be used as an alternative to wire mesh. In combination with drainage pipes as a basic skeleton structure, it can also create small enclosures that were found to effectively exclude deer in a 2001 study. However, these test compounds were very small in size, and plastic fences have a number of issues including the potential to entangle animals, microplastic shedding into local water systems and poor recyclability relative to metal. According to a 2006 review, these fences have a lifespan of 15-25 years, though they are prone to fire damage and may be chewed through at the bottom by animals capable of side-to-side chewing, like rabbits (Source).

A very robust and expensive system, which often comes complete with posts, security fence panels are designed to resist humans and are typically coated in plastic. This gives them a good lifespan, however their rigidity makes them unsuitable for land with contours and they have little elasticity, so they could be deformed by animal or vehicle impacts and are expensive to replace.

This is expensive and tends to rot or get damaged by the wind over time, but it can make a good deer fence, as it prevents them from seeing through. Deer don’t like to jump into an area without first getting a proper look to check it’s safe to land and free from predators (University of Vermont). This is most suitable for protecting smaller areas like back gardens.

 

 

This thicker woven material form of electric fencing is what you often see around the edges of livestock fields. It can be effective at keeping deer out – with a 90% reduction in deer damage to small corn fields protected with a 0.6m high fence in a 1988 study. However, performance varies, with unpublished data from a later study finding a much weaker effect, even with 5 strands up to 1.3m in height (2006 review). In general, this type of fence is more of a highly effective deterrent than a barrier. You may be able to improve polytape by making it more enticing – smearing or spraying diluted peanut butter on the fence will make deer more likely to touch it with sensitive parts of their anatomy. A 1988 study found that this improved the deterrent effect.

A 2-3m tall barbed wire fence may stop deer, but it’s also prone to entangling them when they attempt to get through. For this reason, barbed wire isn’t a good choice for a deer fence.

You may have read online about simple ‘fishing line’ fences and the potential of these to replace wire fences at smaller scales. However, this system has been repeatedly proven ineffective, could entangle animals and a practical trial showed that deer simply step through the gaps.

Important Things to Consider

You can buy deer fences as whole systems, or as posts, with separate fencing materials. Here, we give an overview of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each fencing material, ordered from best to worst (in our opinion):Impo

If animals do manage to get into your fenced area, having a gate in the corner of the compound allows you to easily herd them back out again. A gate in the middle of one side makes it very difficult to remove trapped animals and they may damage the fence and/or injure themselves trying to escape you.

Fences placed on slopes may not be as secure as you believe – a deer can jump over a fence more easily if it’s on a slope as the ground is higher on one side. This may also lead to them getting trapped in your compound and damaging the fence when trying to escape.

It is often impossible, or very difficult, to fence across a river or stream. Deer deterrents, as listed above, are often the best option for these breaks in a boundary.

It’s easier to fence animals out than to enclose them in a fenced area. Deer will jump higher to escape a compound than they will to enter one unless pursued or panicked. Please note, this article only relates to deer fences that keep animals out, not creating deer enclosures.

Many landowners are so concerned with getting a deer fence high enough that they forget to secure the bottom. Deer will happily climb under a fence, even through a relatively tiny gap, lifting the fence when required. Fences should be taut at ground level and flush with the soil, or, to avoid Muntjac infiltration, extending horizontally along the soil by 15cm from the base of the fence and pinned down.

..a female Roe, Muntjac, Fallow or Chinese Water deer. Hind – a female Red or Sika deer. Stag – a male Red or Sika deer. Buck – a male Roe, Muntjac, Fallow or Chinese Water deer. Calf – a young Red or Sika deer. Kid – a young Roe deer. Fawn – a young Muntjac, Fallow or Chinese Water deer.

(details from the British Deer Society)

Installing a Fence

Detailed fence installation instructions are provided for Fallow Deer, Roe Deer and Muntjac fencing in this Forestry Commission PDF. A Countryside Stewardship grant is available to subsidise the cost of deer fencing – more information on this UK Government webpage. Newly coppiced woodland is also eligible for a temporary deer fencing subsidy under Countryside Stewardship – more information on this UK Government webpage.

Further Reading

DEFRA: Managing deer in the countryside 

University of Nebraska: Fences… A Review of Designs and Efficacy

University of Vermont: Effective Deer Fences 

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