Autumn: The best time to enjoy a taste of game

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Following the main harvest of the year, Autumn is the best season for British produce. Why not introduce some local venison to your dining table, asks Nick Mosley.

Above and beyond faddy eating, many people are still a little sensitive about game meats. After all, surely its been shot by some toff who chases foxes for a living?

Now whilst I can’t rule out that your venison hasn’t been shot by someone who attended Eton, the chance is incredibly slim. With around 140,000 licensed gun owners in the UK, game hunting is enjoyed by people of all backgrounds.

Whilst its fallen somewhat out of favour with the rise of the supermarkets, game meat is a wild and natural part of the countryside’s harvest and has played a role in British cuisine for time immemorial.

By its nature – coming from a wild animal rather than an intensively bred farm-fattened domestic animal – the meat is low in fat and high in protein and vitamins. In fact nutritionally venison is similar to skinless chicken but with a lot more depth and flavour.

Yes, venison is shot. There’s no getting around that fact, Bambi. But what that means is that throughout the animal’s life it’s been wild and natural. Unfortunately most meats on our tables can’t claim that, and there is nothing majestic about meeting ones end in a commercial slaughter factory.

There are six species of deer that live in the UK but only Red Deer and Roe Deer are truly native species, although Fallow Deer were introduced by the Romans 2,000 years ago and tend now to be regarded as native too. The other three small deer species – Sika, Muntjac and Chinese Water – are all invasive species that have adapted to the UK environment having escaped from zoos and private collections in the past 200 years. Each species – as with game fowl – has its own legally allowed shooting season in order to avoid the relevant breeding seasons.

The current UK deer population estimate is around 1.5 million animals and growing. The problem with deer is that they no longer have any natural predators in the UK, other than humans. Hence without some control their numbers will continue to spiral, and in some areas of the UK large-scale culling may need to be the order of the day as there are simply too many of the animals.

The UK Highway Authority says that each year there are on average around 50,000 road accidents caused by deer, which attributes to 20 human deaths annually. They are also partial to munching their way through commercial crops; here is Sussex they are a frequent, if unwelcome, to our vineyards alongside grain crops. Wild deer are no friend to the British arable farmer.

Whilst you’ll always get the freshest and seasonal game meat from your local butcher or game dealer, you’ll also now find it in the fridge and freezer section of all the major supermarkets, including Aldi and Lidl.

Deer are a majestic and valued part of the British countryside but must be managed like any other resource to ensure harmony in the British countryside. Visit www.tasteofgame.org.uk for more information about local game meats and recipe ideas.

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