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Eating more wild venison

  • by JW

“Given the growing interest in food sustainability and environmental concerns” [Radio 4 Food Programme]

The pilot is starting with food banks: Forestry England will supply 5,000kg of wild venison from forests in Devon and Cornwall to Farm Wilder this year.


Eating venison seems to make sense on many levels:

Choosing to eat this delicious, largely forgotten meat from an overpopulated species with a low carbon footprint is a relatively simple calculation. Venison: Culinary treasure and environmentally sound? – Wicked Leeks

It’s even of interest to vegetarians:

“I would prefer to see wild venison rather than farmed, imported venison being sold in supermarkets. It seems crazy when we’ve got so much on our doorstep.” We’re here for the deer: Why a vegetarian is trying to persuade us to eat wild venison | The Independent | The Independent

For this week’s Radio 4’s Food Programme, Sheila Dillon travelled to the Scottish Highlands – and to the West Country:

The Wild Venison Project

Hundreds of miles away in Gloucestershire, the environmental problems caused by large deer herds are much more critical, according to leading campaigner and deer manager, Mike Robinson. He says that numbers have got out of control, particularly since Covid and that culling targets are more difficult to enforce in England than in Scotland, because estates are smaller and fragmented. He shows Sheila some of the damage in an estate forest caused by grazing deer.

He estimates that there may be nearly 3 million deer in England, mainly fallow, roe and muntjac and that stricter controls are necessary. He says the Westminister government is now using a carrot and stick approach with landowners – offering woodland grants which are conditional on professional deer management plans – and he’s hopeful that this will be effective.

As well as managing deer, Mike Robinson is a chef and restaurateur with several award-winning restaurants. He specialises in wild food and recently launched The Wild Venison Project – an initiative to get more chefs across the UK to put venison on their menus and to persuade the public to buy and cook it at home. He cooks several recipes for Sheila to demonstrate the versatility of the meat and he says: “I suppose you could say I am obssessed with vension. It just makes so much sense to eat a meat which is wild, healthy and nutritious and which also helps address environmental problems.”

Mike runs Deer Box, an online food site and believes selling directly to the public is the most cost effective and efficient way for producers to operate because most supermarket chains have their own internal purchasing systems which are difficult for small producers to work with. He set up Deer Box during Covid, with a state of the art processing unit and offers everything from expensive steak cuts to mince, steak pieces and burgers. He is also a patron of The Countryside Food Trust, a charity which distributes game to food banks and communtiy projects.

It’s not the first time Sheila Dillon has reported, for The Food Programme, on efforts to increase the consumption of wild venison. Will they have more success this time? Given the growing interest in food sustainability and environmental concerns, campaigners Mike Robinson, John MacDonald and Linzi Seivwright are convinced their message is finally beginning to pay dividends.

BBC Radio 4 – The Food Programme, The Wild Venison Project

Here’s the website:

Wild Venison Project | and Wild Venison Project – The Country Food Trust

In fact, the push to get venison onto more plates is gaining ground – with this report from Devon from earlier in the year:

The pilot is starting with food banks: Forestry England will supply 5,000kg of wild venison from forests in Devon and Cornwall to Farm Wilder this year. It will process the venison into ragu and the Country Food Trust will distribute it. ‘Deer are destroying habitats’: push to get venison on to UK dinner plates | Food banks | The Guardian

Yes, this meat is being trialed in Devon food banks: Food banks to stock venison as price slumps [Times: paywall]

There really are too many deer out there – and they need to be managed properly: Deer ‘being displaced’ by huge Exeter housing projects – Devon Live