On a farm in Tasmania’s northern midlands, Lucy Turnbull is looking through hundreds of photos and videos of deer.

Each shot contains somewhere between one and 50 fallow deer.

The thing is, she’s not on a deer farm.

Ms Turnbull is an honours student with the University of Tasmania (UTAS), and she’s on farmer Julian von Bibra’s 12,000-hectare property near Ross.

His farm produces merino wool, prime lamb, beef and poppies.

But the property is under increasing pressure from feral deer. 

Man standing in a field on his farm.

For Julian von Bibra, the growing number of feral deer is posing a problem for his farm. (

ABC News: Owain Stia-James

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“If you go back to the 1960s and 1970s, there might have been a couple of hundred deer on the property,” Mr von Bibra said.

“And then we get to now, where we’re looking at well over 1,000 at various stages during the year.

Ms Turnbull is researching how fear could potentially be used to keep deer away from areas of conservation interest.

UTAS research has already found that wild deer are most afraid of the sound of humans, compared with other predators.

On Mr von Bibra’s farm, Ms Turnbull has set up large speakers attached to camera traps, so that when animals walk past, they trigger the speaker to play the sound of humans and also record video footage.

Preliminary data suggests it’s working, and video footage shows large groups of deer fleeing as the sounds of ABC radio programs and podcasts are played.

Camera footage of deer on a farm.

These deer were captured on Julian von Bibra’s property. (

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“If my project works, we’ll be able to start doing tests to see if it can keep them away [from certain] areas,” Ms Turnbull said. 

“The hope would be to use it almost like a big deer fence, like a sound barrier.

“So instead of spending all this money on deer fences that often don’t work anyway, because deer can jump so high, we’d be able to use sound, which would be a much more cost-effective management technique.”

But while Ms Turnbull’s research is ongoing, Mr von Bibra is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year trying to control deer on his property.

He has farmland to protect, as well as expensive revegetation and conservation projects.

He’s erected large deer fences, and he’s caging eucalypt saplings to protect them.

“What worries me is where these numbers are increasing beyond what our traditional methods of control can cope with,” he said.

“And then add to that, the deer is spreading.”

‘They’re spreading quite quickly’

Deer were introduced to Australia in the 1800s for hunting and meat.

They have remained fairly small in numbers, until recent decades where populations have greatly increased.

The most recent aerial survey by Tasmania’s Primary Industries Department estimated the state’s fallow deer population has grown by more than 5 per cent every year since 2006.

They’ve also been reported in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area.

Annelise Wiebkin is Australia’s first national deer management coordinator.

Woman wearing a blue shirt, standing next to a fence.

Annelise Wiebkin is developing a national plan for controlling deer.(

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She estimates there are now between 1 and 2 million deer across Australia.

“They’re in every state and territory, but in greatest numbers on the east coast,” she said. 

“We know that they’re spreading quite quickly.

“Some data in New South Wales has indicated that over the last five years, their spread has increased by about 35 per cent – so they have increased from about 17 per cent of the state of New South Wales to about 22 per cent of the state.

“And similar rates of spread are being seen in different parts of the country.”

‘We can’t control them’

Mr von Bibra also brings recreational hunters onto his property to shoot deer.

While other states and territories recognise deer as a feral pest, in Victoria and Tasmania, established wild deer are managed as a game resource and are partly protected.

Victoria has made it easier for landowners to shoot problem deer.

But in Tasmania, landholders have to apply for crop protection permits and hunters need a game licence to shoot during a limited season.

“When we’re unable to shoot them because our permits have run out, then they come back again,” Mr von Bibra said.

“So if we don’t have that ability to have 12-month pressure, then we can’t control them.”

Man resting his hands on the back of a ute.

Scott Freeman believes game hunters should play a role in getting deer out of Tasmanian national parks.(

ABC News: Scott Ross

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Scott Freeman is a third-generation hunter.

He doesn’t want deer declared a pest, but he believes game hunters should be playing a role in getting deer out of Tasmanian national parks, as they do interstate.

“A lot of that’s done at night with night vision gear and we’ll go in and get control of those areas and all the meat is recovered through those programs and taken home and utilised by the program participants.”

Survey finds hundreds of deer in outer Melbourne

It’s not just rural areas with deer issues.

In recent months, they’ve been spotted in inner Melbourne, given nude sunbathers a scare in Sydney, and one even ran across a junior football game in the Melbourne suburb of Bulleen.

A deer seen running on a street in Fitzroy from inside a car.

Deer have been spotted in Fitzroy in Melbourne. (

Twitter: @AussieAusborne

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Johannes Wenzel has lived in the foothills of the Dandenongs for 35 years in what is effectively outer suburban Melbourne.

About five years ago, he noticed something had been nibbling on his rose bushes and fruit trees.

“And it has become a huge problem in our environment and not only for us, but for the neighbours and probably for other people much worse.”

He started talking to local residents, organisations and businesses and heard reports of vegetation damage, deer on roads and damage to lyrebird habitat.

Mr Wenzel joined a local group – the Cardinia Deer Management Coalition – which received a federal grant to undertake a thermal imaging helicopter survey of the local area.

Results from the aerial survey estimated more than 1,600 deer in an area of 111 square kilometres – or a density of about 15 deer per square kilometre.

“We were a bit stunned because we knew there are a lot of deer in the area,” Mr Wenzel said. 

The surveyed area was near drinking catchment areas, including Melbourne’s second-largest reservoir, Cardinia Reservoir.

“It really requires a concerted effort between all the players in the deer sphere in our area to get together to try to counteract the deer impact,” Mr Wenzel said.

In a statement, Melbourne Water said it would incorporate the survey’s findings into its deer management program, which already includes regular monitoring and, where required, control activities.

Mr Wenzel is now one of the driving forces of the Victorian Deer Control Community Network, a group trying to tackle the growing impacts of feral deer across that state.

National options

Ms Wiebkin is developing a national plan for controlling deer but said it was difficult to manage them in urban and peri-urban areas.

“[It’s] partly because of the tools that we have to manage them,” she said.

She said some overseas countries were having similar issues. 

“Some countries such as New Zealand have been developing some of the technologies such as using thermal technologies and the way they do aerial control in a more advanced way that we probably haven’t.”

David Forsyth is researching cost-effective management options for deer with the NSW Department of Primary Industries.

It’s a five-year project, and four years in, he’s found there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to controlling deer.

“Ground-based shooting at night using professional contractors is effective, as can be some trapping and fencing,” Dr Forsyth said.

“But in larger, more remote areas, for example, national parks and large pastoral properties, then aerial shooting is probably the most effective method.”

Three deer stand in a paddock with a mountain behind them.

In Victoria and Tasmania, established wild deer are managed as a game resource and are partly protected.(

ABC News: Luke Bowden

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A recent Senate inquiry recommended states and territories change legislation to:

  • Treat deer as an environmental pest
  • Maximise the ability of landholders to control feral deer
  • Maximise the ability of park managers to control feral deer in World Heritage Areas and national parks
  • Commit to eliminating feral deer populations in World Heritage Areas, areas of national environmental significance and national biodiversity hotspots.

The Victorian government has developed and funded a deer control strategy and is investigating whether species that aren’t established in the wild should be classified as pests.

The Tasmanian government will release a wild deer management plan for comment later this year.

It’s being developed on the basis of deer remaining a “partly protected” species.

Mr von Bibra believes the deer status needs to be considered.

“What if they were a pest species? That’s certainly how much of the rural community view them the farming sector,” he said.

“And that’s perhaps the status they ought to land at, which is where they are on mainland Australia.

“And that’s where I’m really challenged, as to how a generation can let this happen.”

In Tasmania, deer aren’t classified as pests. That’s causing problems for farmers like Julian 
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