Deer and the environment 2

Deer and the Environment (2)

It has been said that the Isle of Wight has a unique rich ground flora due to the absence of deer, but is this really true?

This rich ground flora is an undeniable and welcome fact but is it truly unique? How does this relate to deer and what other factors may be involved? I decided to compare and contrast our island with other areas to help determine the truth.

The Isle of Man is an offshore island situated roughly in the middle of the Irish Sea. Geologically it is mainly made up of ancient rock from the Ordovician era.  With an area of around 221 square miles it is almost 1 1/2 x the size of the Isle of Wight. Wild deer are thought to be absent and it has around 127 ha of Ancient Woodland which was studied by the Manx Wildlife Trust in 2011.

They reported that the “woodland flora is in decline” and that compared to the rest of Great Britain the Manx “floral diversity is modest which is reflected in their woodland diversity.”

They attribute this to the levels of “shade cast by planted species and a lack of traditional woodland management with some species becoming rare or extinct as a result.”

Looking closer to home I drew a comparison with the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset.

Purbeck is a peninsular of around 156 square miles, slightly larger than the Isle of Wight with which it shares a similar varied geology and a favourably mild maritime climate. Like our island it is home to woodland bats including the rare Bechsteins, and though not numerous, both Dormice and Nightingales are also to be found there.

There is a substantial deer population in Purbeck which together with the adjoining Poole basin contains around 3000 – 4000 animals. Woodlands amount to around 710 ha of Semi-Natural Ancient Woodland and 674 ha of Plantations on the site of Ancient Woodlands, some of which has been fenced against deer.

Purbeck has many SSSI’s, nature reserves and designated special areas of conservation. Natural England has commented on the “biological diversity and richness” of the area and claims that Purbeck includes “the 10km2 square with the greatest diversity of plant species in the country”.

So what about the Isle of Wight where deer are rare?

The island has around 50km2 of woodland, nearly a third of is considered to be Ancient Woodland.  Within these woods are to be found relics of wood pasture which have deteriorated due to lack of grazing by creatures such as deer. This has also led to Lichens being threatened by shade cast by  vigorous growths of Brambles, whilst competition from aggressive plant species is said to pose the greatest threat to the Wood Calamint, the only native plant unique to the Isle of Wight.

Our rich floral heritage was commented on in the 18th century when deer were more abundant here.  Richard Worsley refers to the island as being the “Garden of England” , whilst the  historian John Albin remarks “Almost every species which are to be found in any other part of England are met with here, a circumstance which must be extremely agreeable to the philanthropic mind, and grateful to the botanist and man of science. They abound in quantity as well as variety.”

It would appear that a mild climate, a southerly latitude, a varied geology and land use, together with the presence of Ancient Woodland are amongst the prime factors influencing floral biodiversity.

It is notable that with a large resident deer population this rich flora is greater in Dorset than the Isle of Wight

If you have seen some deer on the island please take part in the Isle of Wight Deer Survey  locations will be treated with strictest confidence. For periodic updates please visit Isle of Wight Deer Conservation or email

British Deer Society Position Statement – Isle of Wight Deer

Thank you for your interest and support

For more photos of deer on the Isle of Wight please see the Isle of Wight Deer Album


Red Deer Hind

Red Deer Hind  Isle of Wight


Deer and the Environment 1

Deer and the Environment. (1)

It has been said that :-

“The absence of certain species such as Deer and Grey Squirrel has a direct benefit for the woodland flora and fauna across the Island ”  and some ecologists fear that if wild deer were to be tolerated here they could “cause immense damage” to our woodlands with their “heavy browsing”.

But is this really true?

In the case of the Grey Squirrel and large concentrations of the invasive non-native Muntjac deer scientific evidence shows that this is indeed the case, but what of the other deer?

The Denny Pens study from the New Forest indicates what happens when you have too many deer. Two enclosures were studied, one control enclosure from which all large herbivores including deer were excluded and another which was artificially stocked with Fallow deer at an extremely high density of 100 / km2. After 22 years most understorey species were absent from the deer enclosure and tree regeneration had ceased.

So how does this relate to the Isle of Wight?

With around 50km2 of woodland this would require a deer population in excess of 5000 animals or by comparison more than double the deer population of the New Forest where  there are currently around 2000 naturally occurring deer spread over an area of around 230km2 of woodland.

So is there a level at which  a re-established Isle of Wight deer population would be beneficial?

Scientific research shows that low density deer populations increase biodiversity, typically at densities of 3/km2 – 7/km2 of woodland with a threshold of adverse impact on seedling regeneration occurring at 14 /km2.

In relation to the Isle of Wight this suggests that a beneficial deer capacity would be in the region of 150 – 350 animals and up to 700 deer before they would need to be reduced by a management cull.

Are there any other long term benefits for the island’s wildlife?

Large herbivore grazing and browsing such as by deer is necessary to prevent wood pasture and wood edge habitats scrubbing over.

The advance of this scrub would lead to the loss of flowering woodland plants. Once these flowering species are lost research shows they may be difficult to re-establish.

These are important feeding grounds for many of the woodland bat species found on the island and one of our rarest, the Greater Horseshoe, feeds on the coprophagous invertebrates associated with deer dung – perhaps this is why it is so scarce here.

So our woodlands – particularly wood pasture and edge habitats may actually be suffering from the relative absence of deer and not benefiting as some have claimed.

If you have seen some deer on the island please take part in the Isle of Wight Deer Survey  locations will be treated with strictest confidence. For periodic updates please visit Isle of Wight Deer Conservation or email

British Deer Society Position Statement – Isle of Wight Deer

Thank you for your interest and support

For more photos of deer on the Isle of Wight please see the Isle of Wight Deer Album


Wild Red deer Hind 30.4.2014(2)

A wild red deer hind resting in the understorey

A brief history of Isle of Wight Deer

 A brief history of Isle of Wight deer

The early ancestors of deer were found on the island* during the Oligocene epoch around 25 million years ago and resembled modern day Muntjac deer.

Prior to the last  Ice Age Red, Fallow and Roe may have been found on the island*, when this glaciation ended the Red and Roe gradually re-established themselves and were hunted by Mesolithic people.

In the Neolithic Red Deer were to be found co-existing with Dormice and Red Squirrels in woodland in the Undercliff.

Both Bronze age and Roman people are thought to have hunted deer and wild boar on the island and it was the Romans who first reintroduced Fallow deer to England although DNA evidence suggests that these deer have no modern descendents.

Little appears to be recorded about deer on the island during the Saxon and Jutish period although the place names of Renham Down and Rancombe respectively have their origins in the down and valley frequented by Roe deer.

The Normans introductions of Fallow deer into England are the ancestors of our existing populations and they are now considered to be naturalised natives.

Medieval deer parks were relatively small enclosures averaging about 200 acres enclosed by a bank and ditch with a deer proof paling fence. Within these the deer were bred for meat.

The Domesday Book records the creation of ‘The King’s Park’ at Watchingwell, thereby predating 1086, and one of the oldest known deer parks in England. Situated in the south-west corner of the vastly more extensive Parkhurst Forest, it was separated by the track which later became known as Betty Haunt Lane, most likely meaning ‘between the haunts’, an appropriate name for a lane dividing two ‘deer haunts’. A similar use of the word ‘haunt’ occurs in the name ‘Dogs Ant‘, which is marked on an 1862 map in the north-west corner of Parkhurst Forest.

‘Forests’ in their original sense have always been a royal prerogative, and the Isle of Wight was no exception, with the Lords of the Island enjoying from the King the right of free forest and the privilege of taking or driving stags or harts. Three huntsmen sent by Henry III spent eighteen days in Parkhurst Forest until, with twenty hounds and twelve greyhounds, they had caught the hundred deer required to grace the young king’s table with venison. By 1279 Isabella de Fortibus had already claimed from Edward I the liberty of a free chase in the Forest, which was subsequently granted in Edward II’s reign to the royal favourite Piers Gaveston. Birchmore in the Arreton/Rookley area also formed part of the hunting ground of the early Lords of the Island, and was another liberty granted to Isabella in 1279. Old Park within the Undercliff was a sanctuary for wild animals and reserved for hunting from the Late Middle Ages.

Edward III imposed on one John Maltravers that he should, in the season for buck-hunting, attend the king at Carisbrooke Castle; during his reign, in 1333, sundry poachers were prosecuted for entering the king’s park and taking deer, and continual prosecutions followed.

Parkhurst annually provided the Lords with thirty bucks and a crop of rabbits, while 150 cattle, forty pigs and a large number of geese were also turned out onto the pastures.

Early in Edward II’s reign, 1309, a charter was granted to John de Insula and his heirs of free warren, a privilege which had been granted a few years earlier to the De Insulas on the adjoining estates of Bonchurch and Rew. Old Park lay within the medieval parish of Whitwell, and an indenture as late as 1689 recites the manorial rights to the Whitwell estate, reserving the rights of fowling, hawking and hunting – and thereby re-confirming privileges conferred by the charter granted nearly four centuries earlier.

There was  a deer park in the Shalfleet area by the later 13th century, for in 1278 Henry Trenchard complained that Amice, Countess of Devon, and her men had taken thirty of his oxen at Chessell and detained them at her manor at Thorley; moreover, they had broken his park of Chessell and “rescued the beasts lawfully impounded therein” and driven off the deer from his park at Shalfleet.

In 1441 Lewis and Alice Meux were given licence to create a deer park out of three hundred acres of woodland and pasture in the parishes of Kingston and Shorwell.

Borthwood Forest also served as a hunting ground for deer, and in 1415 was granted by Henry V to Philippa, Duchess of York, with a small building called the Queen’s Bower in an eminent position, from which she would perhaps view the chase.

But there are at least two other claimants to this title. Queen Anne (1702-14) is also said to have had a ‘bower’ or arbour here, when she came at certain seasons for the excellent hawking; an alternative tradition claims that it was Isabella herself who had a hunting-box here as far back as the 13th century, in what was then extensive forest.

Writing in the 1st half of the 17th century the Oglander memoirs describes:-“Deer were not plentiful except in the parks of the gentry and some that run wild in Parkhurst Forest”And then recounts the tale of a stag that swam the across the Solent:-“There wase a stagge hunted out of ye Newe Fforest into ye Iland in AnoDom. 1609 and lived many years in ye Iland; he was mutch in Rowberoe and in my grounds at Artingshoote and Whitefield. Ye king had a great desyore to hunt him, but was diswaded from itt;for it wase almoste imposible to kill him, becawse on all occasions he woold take ye seae. Itt was thought he went into ye New Fforest to rutt, and retourned again.”

In 1650 Watchingwell Park is recorded as having nine score deer of various sorts and in 1770 the Surveyor General had reported that Parkhurst Forest contained about 3,043 acres and about 200 head of deer. At the time of its disafforesting in 1812 it contained about 2,500 acres, including the enclosed part, 415 acres in extent

Deer were kept on various estates and released into the wild for hunting into the 1840’s and it is reported that they used to escape from Appuldurcombe Park  and range throughout the island.

*The Isle of Wight did not become a separate entity from the mainland until around 7000 years ago

With thanks to all those who assisted in sourcing the original material for this article, including the IW County Archaeological Service, Maurice Paul Stafford-Bower and Alan R Phillips

Extracts for this historical section have been reproduced with the author’s permission from Cock & Bull Stories : Animals in Isle of Wight Folklore, Dialect and Cultural History, by Alan R Phillips (Newport, IOW:2008).

If you have seen some deer on the island please take part in the Isle of Wight Deer Survey  locations will be treated with strictest confidence. For periodic updates please visit Isle of Wight Deer Conservation or email

British Deer Society Position Statement – Isle of Wight Deer

Thank you for your interest and support

For more photos of deer on the Isle of Wight please see the Isle of Wight Deer Album


couched deer April 2014

A wild red deer hind couched in IW woodland


Isle of Wight Wild Deer – A few myths

The history of wild deer on the Isle of Wight reflects the neighbouring areas on the mainland coasts of Hampshire & Dorset,with deer populations establishing after the last Ice Age and fluctuating ever since.

Both wild and captive deer probably disappeared altogether from the island in the middle of the 19th century, around the time that the Worsley Estate was sold and carted deer hunting ceased, and only began to be seen again in the wild in the mid 1970’s

Wild deer remain comparatively scarce on the Isle of Wight, Reds and Muntjacs are probably the most common species with the odd Fallow and Roe occasionally being seen. Deer are sometimes seen swimming across Southampton Water and the Solent to the island.

A few myths about our resident wild Isle of Wight deer:-

1. There are no wild deer on the Isle of Wight

Many people will have heard that the Isle of Wight has a “deer free status”, the Forestry Commission have recently clarified what they mean by this:- ” This is of course a relative term which compares the minimal deer numbers on the Isle of Wight with significant populations on the mainland”.  Obviously their use of the term “deer free” has been very misleading.

2. Deer are an introduced species like Grey Squirrels and American Mink

There are 6 species of wild deer in the UK, evidence of 5 of which have all been seen on the island in recent years. Red and Roe are native* deer that recolonised England including the land that was to become the Isle of Wight after the last Ice Age, whilst Muntjac, Fallow and Sika are introduced species.

3. They are all deer farm escapes and there are no naturally occurring deer on the island

Red deer and Muntjac have been breeding in the wild for some years now and deer are known to swim across the Solent*.  The last commercial deer farm on the island closed around the year 2000. Roe and Muntjac are not kept in deer farms at all. A FOI request revealed that the IWC had no evidence to support their claim that there are no naturally occurring deer on the island.

No public authority has been able to produce firm evidence of any escaped farmed deer when challenged under FOI/EIR regulations

4. The vegetation on Isle of Wight is more lush and varied compared to the mainland and biodiversity is greater due to the relative  absence of deer

The mild  climate and geology of the Isle of Wight are the prime reasons for our vegetation being different from many areas of the mainland and was recorded as such hundreds of years ago when wild deer were more abundant on the island. Both historical and archaeological records show that our rich woodlands evolved in the presence of wild deer.

Dorset claims greater floral diversity than the island whilst Hampshire claims to have the most varied biodiversity in the country, both of these counties have strong deer populations.

5. Populations of rare mammals such as Woodland Bats, Red squirrels and Dormice are threatened by the presence of deer

The JNCC report on the status of our wild mammals makes no such claim, in fact Bats in particular benefit from deer grazing woodland pastures and rides which enables the Butterflies and Moths that they feed on to thrive. Some Bats also feed on the coprophagous insects found in deer dung.

6. Nightingales are only found when deer are absent

Nightingales breed mostly south of the Severn-Wash line and east from Dorset to Kent. The highest densities are found in the south east: Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Kent and Sussex, all these counties have significant populations of wild deer.

7.Woodland Biodiversity is harmed by deer

It has been established by scientific research conducted  in North America, Great Britain and Europe that woodland biodiversity is at its greatest when deer are present at low density and decreases when deer are either totally absent or at a very high density.

8. In the UK deer spread diseases such as bluetongue

Bluetongue is a non-contagious disease of ruminants found in tropical and subtropical areas that rarely occurs elsewhere, it is carried and spread by the Culicoides imicola midge that cannot overwinter in our climate. No deer within the UK have ever been found to be infected with this virus.

9. Deer cause Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is an infection caused by a group of bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi which are transmitted to humans following a bite from an infected Sheep tick Ixodes ricinus. Despite its name the Sheep tick will feed from a wide variety of mammals and birds. Bites from other ticks are possible, including the Hedgehog tick , Ixodes hexagonus, and the Fox and Badger tick, Ixodes canisuga. These ticks become infected during their larval and nymphal phases by feeding on the small mammals and birds which harbour the Lyme bacterium. Later in their development the infected nymphs and adults transfer the Lyme bacteria to the animals and people on which they feed. On the Isle of Wight there are over 30,000 Sheep and abundant small mammals and wild birds that can perform the role of a host for the Ixodid ticks and the diseases that they carry.  Deer are described as “incompetent hosts” for these Lyme disease causing bacteria and do not transmit the infection back to the ticks.

The important thing is to be aware of the dangers caused by a tick bite and to seek prompt medical help if bitten. Take special care when walking through long damp grass etc. as this is where ticks are found after falling off one host to await the next. More useful information may be found on the Lyme Disease Action Website and in “Science Daily – Lyme Disease: You can’t blame the deer”


*Native species  (indigenous)


A species, subspecies or lower taxon, occurring within its natural range (past and present) and dispersal potential (i.e. within the range it occupies naturally or could occupy without direct or indirect introduction or care by humans)IUCN 2000


If you have seen some deer on the island please take part in the Isle of Wight Deer Survey  locations will be treated with strictest confidence. For periodic updates please visit Isle of Wight Deer Conservation or email

British Deer Society Position Statement – Isle of Wight Deer

Thank you for your interest and support

For more photos of deer on the Isle of Wight please see the Isle of Wight Deer Album


Wild Red deer yearling Isle of Wight

Wild Red deer yearling Isle of Wight