DEER stalkers who are carrying out a cull of deer in an ancient forest have been called “trigger happy” by animal rights campaigners.

Conservationists working for The Ashdown Forest Centre are implementing a five-year cull in the area of open heathland because the large deer population there “threatens the forest’s biodiversity”.

The cull, which is funded by a Government grant, comes after a large number of deer have been injured or killed in collisions with vehicles. The centre said about 200 deer are hit by vehicles in the area every year.

BBC’s Inside Out South East on Monday night showed a stalker shooting a deer in the forest.

Denise Friend, a member of Brighton Animal Rights, said: “I was really upset to see a deer being killed in the forest on TV.

“I thought they were just going to tranquillise it.

“There are other methods of controlling the population.

“I don’t like the idea of the deer being shot because I don’t know how indiscriminate it is. I really was shocked to see the programme showing that and was distressed by it.

“It is just a little bit trigger happy. It doesn’t matter if it is deer, foxes or badgers, our solution is to just shoot them. It is not good.”

The BBC reported that half the deer population in the forest is planned to be culled as part of the deer management programme, which is expected to last five years.

When The Argus contacted The Ashdown Forest Centre, conservation officer Steve Alton did not confirm half of the population would be culled, but said “we will just keep chipping away each shooting season”.

Mr Alton said: “No one has come up with a successful alternative [to the cull].

“There has to be at least 5,000 deer in the forest.

“We do not know exactly how big the population is.”

Conservationists argue the deer are eating too much grass and vegetation in the forest for it to be sustainable and that there are no natural predators left to hunt the deer there.

They say a cull should be carried out for the long-term welfare of the deer population and the safety of motorists and other people in the area.

Former centre manager at Plumpton College's Netherfield Campus, Simon Bishop, died at the age of 51 when his vehicle was in a collision with a deer in Lewes Road in nearby Easons Green in 2009.

Wildlife campaigners have denounced the cull, calling it “unnecessary” and “outdated”.

They have called for other solutions such as using contraception to slow population growth or erecting fencing to keep them off the roads.

Plans to make the project sustainable include selling venison resulting from the cull.