Wild venison is at the heart of many of our feasts and courses. An incredible wild meat available in abundance, it is not only nutritious and flavourful, but also the most sustainable meat we can source here in the UK. In this post, we explore why we should all eat more venison, where to find it and how to cook it to enjoy at home with your friends and family.
With hospitality’s doors so very firmly shut in the 3rd National Lockdown, the commercial demand for venison has well and truly plunged, as deer from Britain’s largest herds are no longer needed. Many of the larger game dealer’s commercial sales account for 70-80% of their business – so you can only imagine what an effect this is having (on both the animal population, and the businesses!). An estimated 100,000 deer are generally culled annually, however 2020 saw these numbers drop by nearly 75%.
What so many people don’t realise when considering venison as a sustainable meat option, is that the careful management of the UK’s deer population is absolutely ESSENTIAL for our ecosystem – an unmanaged deer herds poses a huge threat to our woodlands and our wildlife.
The Woodland Trust sums it up rather nicely:
Wild deer herds are said to grow by up to 30% each year. Culling the female deer during the winter months helps keep numbers down, but this year – with demand at an all-time low, population numbers are steadily rising.
Farmers and conservationists are ever-more concerned at the impact that deer have on crops and wildlife, just a few of the challenges including:
– Increasing damage on crops, particularly on cereal crops in east and south-west England (a whopping estimated £4.3m a year’s damage)
– Pressure from deer browsing causing declines in characteristic herbaceous plants, birds, invertebrates and mammals like the dormouse because it removes the structural complexity of woodland by limiting the growth of many shrub and tree species, and prevents their regeneration.
– Up to a 50% decline in woodland bird numbers where deer are present.
Many consider hunting venison a ‘blood sport’. Historically, numbers were kept in check by natural predators such as lynx and wolves, but with these species no longer roam in the UK. Yet, deer populations still need to be kept in balance – so as humans, we take on the role as part of managing our landscape.
Let’s be clear – we are by no means encouraging to completely remove deer. But a wide abundance of wildlife needs to be encouraged, and if one species becomes overly dominant then we are not achieving that. These are 100% wild, incredibly clever, beautiful animals for which we have a huge amount of respect – celebrating this incredible animal, and ensuring nothing goes to waste, is always top of our agenda.
Here at The Salt Box, Venison features heavily in our courses and feasts. One of our most popular day courses is our Wild Venison Butchery & Cookery Course – where we spend the day breaking down a carcass in the fur, learning how to make the most of the whole animal from nose to tail, and turning it into a selection of delicious dishes.
It’s also worth mentioning, that venison packs a punch in flavour. A healthy, sustainable and readily available alternative to other types of red meat – no cholesterol and full of antioxidants. And if you can source it locally, zero food miles. As long as you’re not sourcing farmed venison – venison meat is as wild as you can get. These animals roam where they please, eating a totally natural diet of forage and pasture – resulting in a lean, dark, tender meat.
We often hear that many find it difficult to source venison, it’s not something that is often readily available on the supermarket shelves that’s for sure. We appreciate that getting hold of a whole deer from your local gamekeeper may not be on the cards for you, therefore we’ve listed a number of places both local to us here in the South East, as well as some options for those further afield. You’ll also now find venison available online for delivery from specialist farms and producers, which is fantastic! We would always recommend you speak to your local butcher, or check out one of the following:
South Downs Venison – wild game sourced from Estates and parks along the South Downs, they also offer a wild game meat box for delivery
Coombe Farm Organic – organic venison from Sharpham Park in Somerset, where the deer live a wild life on ancient organic parkland.
Piper’s Farm – sourced from the Parkland Estate, one of Devon’s most picturesque estates.
If you’re keen to give cooking Venison a go at home, we have a selection of recipes available here on our recipe page, including:
We’ve made it part of our mission to encourage more people to eat venison (as well as all seasonal wild game, it’s flavour and health benefits are unrivalled by any other red meat, and the significant upstream benefits for our ecosystem are indisputable.
If you’re interested in learning a little more about wild venison, below are just a handful of informative posts:
‘The impact of deer on woodland diversity’ – Forest Research, Gov UK
‘Woodland Trust Deer Position Statement’ – Woodland Trust
A really comprehensive book is the aptly named Venison by The Game Larder, including a step-by-step butchery guide. It’s not just a cookery book, this is a celebration of deer: in stunning pictures, showcasing British deer, deer-stalking and the delight in harvesting natures bounty.