Counting The Quantocks Red Deer By Drone Survey

For over 30 years there has been an annual count of deer on the Quantock Hills and nearby land, usually on a morning in early March and undertaken by 50 or more volunteers each covering a defined sector so as to minimise the risk of double counting. The survey is organised by the Quantock Deer Management and Conservation Group which also collates and reports the results which you can find online at

The main purpose is to monitor red deer numbers so as to know whether or not the Quantocks herd is thriving. Other deer species such as roe are also counted but being smaller are more likely to be missed. It has always been known that the count misses some red deer too. Over the life of the project the number of them counted has been as high as 958 and as low as 306. Last year it was 643. Do these variations reflect the weather on the count morning, the cover provided by crops, dispersal of deer away from the count area due to disturbance, real changes in deer numbers or a combination of factors?

Now drones, high definition cameras and thermal imaging sensors make possible a more complete assessment of deer numbers and distribution. So in October, the Group decided to apply for a Farming in Protected Landscapes grant to fund a drone survey in early 2024 and has been successful in obtaining full funding for the project to go ahead at end of February, close to the annual visual deer count, which will take place as usual on the first weekend of March.

The main purpose of this drone survey is to obtain a comparative assessment not just of overall numbers and distribution of deer, but also to help to assess and calibrate differences in the effectiveness of the visual survey in counting blocks of differing habitat and terrain. We expect also that the drone survey will provide greater detail on age and sex breakdown for red deer, but especially is likely to offer an improved assessment of roe deer and muntjac numbers, for which we know our visual count methodology is least well suited. 

Competitive tenders were sought and the work will be undertaken by BH Consultancy, who have extensive experience of deer as well as wild boar drone surveys throughout the UK and abroad. For those interested, more information about the work is at

The drones will work at heights within approved civil air space; all necessary consents are being obtained with landowners informed as far as possible. Information from the drone survey, if published in any public format, will not allow for identification of deer numbers on individual holdings, but landowners will be able to access more detailed information regarding their own holding on request.

This work is of great importance as nationally deer numbers are known to be rising, they affect and increase the cost of new woodland establishment and DEFRA has made clear that it wishes to promote much more deer culling with the aim of reducing numbers. Knowing the baseline is essential if culling on the Quantocks is to be effective but not jeopardise the survival of the population of red deer in which we all take so much pleasure and pride.