Six deer species have established wild populations in NSW. Five of these species are widespread: fallow (Dama dama), red (Cervus elaphus), sambar (Cervus unicolor), chital (Axis axis) and rusa (Cervus timorensis) deer.
In 2020, feral deer species were recorded across 180,443 square kilometres, or 22 per cent, of NSW. This was a significant increase from the feral deer distribution of 138,000 square kilometres recorded in 2016. Fallow deer are the most widespread and numerous feral deer species in NSW and increased their distribution by 60% between 2016 and 2020. In this time period Sambar deer increased their distribution to the north and west from their existing populations in south-eastern NSW and Chital deer increased their distribution from existing populations in the Central West and Western LLS regions of NSW and localised populations are now widely spread across NSW. Hog deer (Axis porcinus) have been recorded in NSW in the far south-east near the Victorian border.
Feral deer can have a range of environmental impacts, including: browsing and grazing that affects plant seedling recruitment and growth; damage to vegetation through trampling and antler rubbing; impacts on water quality through wallowing and faecal contamination; and transporting weed seeds. Even at low densities, feral deer can impact on threatened native plant species. The environmental impacts of deer are listed as a Key Threatening Process under the Threatened Species Act 1995.
Feral deer have a range of economic impacts, including: competition with livestock for grazing resources and difficulty in ‘resting’ pasture in rotational systems; crop damage; damage to young trees in commercial forests through antler rubbing; and potential spread of disease.
Feral deer are difficult to exclude from agricultural areas and sensitive environmental areas as the cost of deer-proof fencing is very expensive.
Feral deer can also have significant human health and social impacts. Feral deer around urban areas (particularly along the east coast of NSW) expose the community to risk of vehicle accidents and also represent a public nuisance where they affect urban amenity, including damaging gardens.
Feral deer are declared game animals under the Game and Feral Animal Control Act 2002. This means deer hunting in NSW is controlled and regulated. There are a number of restrictions on how and when deer hunting can be carried out. Although landholders and immediate family are exempt, game licences are required by people conducting recreational, commercial and professional hunting of deer species, both on private and public land.
Information on the State-wide suspension of certain deer hunting regulations, such as legal hunting seasons and hunting at night, can be found on the Managing feral deer in NSW page.
The Biosecurity Act 2015 introduced the General Biosecurity Duty PDF, 455.96 KB on 1 July 2017, which reinforces the concept of invasive species management as a shared responsibility for all community members. The General Biosecurity Duty provides that any person who deals with biosecurity matter (such as feral deer) and who knows (or ought to know) of the biosecurity risk posed (or likely to be posed), has a biosecurity duty to ensure that the risk is prevented, eliminated or minimised — as far as is reasonably practicable.
For feral deer, this means that landowners (both private and public) will be required to control feral deer to the extent necessary to minimise the risk of any negative impacts on their lands or that of their neighbours. Priority areas to reduce the impacts of feral deer will be guided by a new regional pest animal management planning process that commenced in 2017. This process will be informed by a NSW Feral Deer Management Strategy being developed by the NSW Government and key stakeholders.