FARMERS want an increase in sika deer culling to stop them demolishing crops.

They claim the non-native species is putting the future of farms in the Purbecks and Lulworth at risk.

Paul Cottingham, from the National Farmers’ Union, said: “It’s absolutely essential that something is done now.”

Sika deer can be shot legally by hunters and by landowners who find them eating their crops.

But many landowners have sold lucrative shooting rights to deer stalking companies, so their tenant farmers are helpless.

Tenant farmer Malcolm Elford, 67, of Kingswood Farm near Corfe Castle, said the sika had put the survival of his farm in jeopardy. He watches in frustration as they eat up to one tonne of crops almost every night.

“You can’t chase them with dogs or shoot them or anything,” he said. “And it isn’t just the crops. They take anything they can eat.”

Hunters also tend to shoot the stags for their antlers, leaving the hinds to bear calves.

Mr Cottingham estimated 30 out of 100 members in the area had contacted him with sika deer problems.

He said a recent meeting with landowners and other parties at Studland Bay Visitor centre had been ‘hugely constructive’.

There are thought to be around four million deer nationally – the most there have been for 1,000 years.

The MoD owns 3,000 hectares at Lulworth and 1,000 at Bovington and the scarcity of humans makes that land popular with deer.

Tenant farmer Julian Cranton said the Ministry of Defence was doing all it could to help.

But herds of up to 200 deer were taking away the ability to grow certain crops. He said: “They eat our silage and hay in the spring and summer.

“They are disrupting the dynamic of livestock because we need it to feed for our cattle and sheep in winter.”