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Feral ungulates not so deer in Lake Mac

Planning is underway on a new research project gauging the extent of feral deer populations in Lake Macquarie, and the damage they cause.


Lake Macquarie City Council is funding the University of Technology Sydney project, which will use wildlife camera traps and scat surveys to determine which deer species are present, and where they might be thriving.

UTS Environmental Sciences Program Director Dr Leigh Martin, who is leading the research, said feral deer were known to be “quite abundant” in the Cessnock local government area bordering Lake Macquarie.

“I know of anecdotal reports and incidences of road-kill in Lake Macquarie, but precise information is lacking,” he said.

“Hence, the need to determine distribution, abundance and impact.”

With their shy, elusive nature and excellent camouflage, feral deer are often difficult to spot in the wild.

But Dr Martin said that did not necessarily mean they weren’t around.

“I’ve previously seen what looked like deer scats near the Morisset Hospital area, but it wasn’t the focus of my work at the time so I didn’t investigate further,” he said.

“Given what’s known from the Illawarra and Cessnock regions, the potential for environment impact in Lake Macquarie is quite high.”

With field research starting in November in State Forests, reserves and National Parks across western and southern parts of the city, Dr Martin is hoping to get input from the community about possible sightings or existing impacts from feral deer.

Deer were introduced to Australia in the mid-1800s for hunting.

Their populations grew rapidly in the wild, and the six feral species – rusa, red, sambar, chital, hog and fallow deer – are now thought to number in their millions.

The Australian Government’s five-yearly State of the Environment Report, released last month, identified invasive species as the most prevalent threat to Australian wildlife.

Herbivory and environmental degradation caused by feral deer trampling and feeding in native habitats is listed in NSW as a Key Threatening Process.

Invasive Species Council Conservation Director James Trezise said feral deer had spread “dramatically” through NSW over the past decade.

“They do a huge amount of damage to native ecosystems, grazing and trampling vegetation, spreading weeds through feacal matter and degrading waterways. Even low populations of deer can have serious impacts on native threatened species,” he said.

“It's critical that a strategy is developed to contain and manage down feral deer populations in NSW.”

Council’s Manager Environmental Systems Karen Partington said the Environmental Research Grants program provided up to $8000 for projects that helped develop land use practices, adjusted environmental management strategies and helped plan remedial or preventative works.

“Projects like Dr Martin’s research help us get a better understanding of our environment and threats to it,” Ms Partington said.

Lake Macquarie Mayor Kay Fraser said applications for the next round of Environmental Research Grants opened later this year.

“Council’s support helps get valuable projects off the ground, and in the process helps preserve and improve the natural areas we value so highly,” she said.

Go to for more information. Anyone with deer sighting or impact information can email Dr Martin at

Feral deer caught grazing on farmland in Eden, NSW


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