Road accidents involving deer have soared in the last ten years, with up to 14,000 collisions each year, according to a Government advisory group.

Almost 1,800 road accidents involving deer were officially recorded in 2018 - although tens of thousands more go unreported, said the Deer Working Group.

Winter is a particularly dangerous time, when deer often move to lower ground for grazing and drivers face wet and icy driving conditions in poor light.

And official figures recording the number of collisions in 2018 show that 1,756 road accidents involved deer - an increase of more than a third over the last decade.

READ MORE: Scotland's venison sector welcomes cash boost from Scottish Government in bid to survive Covid

However, when the Deer Working Group reported to the Scottish Government earlier this year on how Scotland should manage deer populations, the group concluded that the total number of road accidents involving deer is closer to 8,000 - 14,000, each year.

Forestry & Land Scotland, which was asked to contribute data to the Working Group, reported that its rangers often get called out to tend to wounded deer near the forest areas it manages across Scotland.

FLS is responsible for 650,000 hectares across Scotland - equalling nine per cent of Scotland’s land area - and deer management is a significant part of its activity.

Ian Fergusson, Head of Wildlife Management for FLS said: “Scotland’s deer population is increasing and we have watched the deer-related road accident statistics climb steadily over the past decade or so.

“Deer pose many challenges in terms of habitat management; the more deer there are the greater potential damage they can do.

"When deer numbers are high or food is scarce, they need to range widely for enough food and this often brings them down into more urban areas; and in terms of busy roads the results can be catastrophic.”

Deer numbers in Scotland are estimated to have increased from around 511,000 in 1990 to around 1 million as of 2020. 

READ MORE: Nature reserves Scotland: Visitor numbers soar

And to help protect Scotland’s national forests and land from the negative impacts of deer, Forestry and Land Scotland employs a number of techniques, including deer culling and fencing to keep numbers down to a sustainable level, keep herds healthy and mitigating against habitat loss.

Most recorded road accidents involving deer occur in the Highland, Aberdeenshire, Central Belt, and Fife regions, but areas in west central Scotland, including North and South Lanarkshire have also seen significant increases in the last decade.

Road Policing Area Commander, Chief Inspector Neil Lumsden, said: "Country and rural roads have many unexpected hazards and the presence of deer on our roads, particularly at this time of year should always be a consideration of road users.

"It is impossible to predict what will happen on the road ahead and you should always ask yourself 'Do I know what is around the next corner?' and 'Could I stop in the distance that I can see to be clear if I have to?'

"When using rural and country roads these are all questions you must continually be asking yourself. I would always remind people to drive to the conditions, understand and react to warning signs, they are there for a reason. Ensure you know what they mean, slow down, drive appropriately and expect the unexpected."

Winter is considered to be one of the most dangerous times on the roads for Deer Vehicle Collisions (DVC), with deer typically being more active during dawn and dusk which falls at times when more cars are on the roads.

It’s estimated that in Scotland, the actual number of DVCs involving human injury may exceed 120 per year.

In October, drivers across the UK were warned to expect a second surge in collisions with deer due to the latest coronavirus restrictions.

The British Deer Society and the AA said the combination of quieter roads, a twilight rush-hour and seasonal migrations has led to a “new danger”.

Empty roads are believed to lull animals into a false sense of security, and Government figures showed that car traffic was down to 85% of pre-pandemic levels, amid measures such as the 10pm curfew for hospitality venues.

An AA poll of 13,800 drivers suggested that 16% have seen an increase in deer or other wildlife on roads during or since lockdown.

This figure rises to 42% for 18 to 24-year-olds, who are the most likely to drive in the evening for sport and social activities.

The region with the largest proportion of drivers who reporting a rise in deer and wildlife encounters is eastern England (33%), followed by Scotland (30%), the South West (27%) and the South East (24%).

British Deer Society chief executive David McAuley said: “Road traffic accidents involving deer are sadly an all too frequent occurrence in the UK as well as in many other countries, especially in autumn and early winter during breeding season.

“We would urge drivers to be extra careful, especially on roads where there are wildlife warning signs, and also driving through rural areas.

“The quieter roads due to Covid-19 restrictions have also made this year’s statistics more concerning and we would especially urge all drivers to be more deer-aware as the evidence shows an increase in collisions during the first Covid-19 lockdown.”