Swimming Deer

Swimming Deer

One of the lesser known facts about deer is that as well as being very athletic creatures on land they are also strong and able swimmers that will readily take to the water. They are known to naturally disperse and migrate across lakes, strong flowing rivers and arms of the sea.

Deer have hollow body hairs which assist buoyancy and have strong hind legs which enable them to swim long distances, up to 10 miles have been claimed from the United States.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Whitetail deer, a close relative of our native Roe, can swim at 13 mph, this compares favourably with the Lymington to Yarmouth ferry which struggles to top 9 mph on its 5 mile crossing.

Around the coast of the UK Red, Roe, Sika and Muntjac are often seen swimming, whilst paradoxically the marsh dwelling Chinese Water Deer appears to be the species least likely to be seen in the sea.

The Solent is no exception to this and island status poses no barrier to deer migrating from the mainland to the Isle of Wight. Even as long ago as the 17th century Sir John Oglander recounts the tale of a distinctive red deer stag that swum across to the island whilst being hunted and took up residence on his Rowborough estate. He tells of how this deer used to disappear during the rut only to reappear afterwards and his belief was that it returned to the mainland during this time, this is entirely within what we now know to be the habits of rutting red deer stags.

More recently in both the 20th and current century Roe and Muntjac have been photographed swimming in the Solent and their presence has been described by members of the public and conservation groups such as the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

Isle of Wight Deer Conservation are currently conducting a survey of the island’s deer population, including those seen swimming around the Solent and coastal areas.

If you have seen any deer 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  deerwight@gmail.com

Thank you for your interest and support

Picture by Jonathan Kershaw

Roe Buck picture by Jonathan Kershaw

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

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There are deer on the Isle of Wight!

There are deer on the Isle of Wight!

As a lifelong Isle of Wight resident I first encountered wild deer here around 20 years ago. I sought to discover the local history of these fascinating creatures and their role in our woodland ecosystems.

Deer have long been associated with the Isle of Wight, Red and Roe re-established their presence here after the last Ice Age and in the Neolithic they were to be found co-existing with Dormice and Red Squirrels in woodland in the Undercliff, whilst in the medieval period the nobility hunted deer in Parkhurst Forest and Borthwood Copse.

In common with much of southern England the fortunes of our deer declined during the 18th century leading to their eventual disappearance around the 1840’s. It is only within the past 60 years that deer have gradually started to re-establish on the island with evidence of Red, Roe, Fallow and Muntjac all being seen.

This expansion of the deer population back onto the Isle of Wight appears to have varying origins. Red, Fallow and Muntjac have all been found in commercial deer farms, parks and tourist attractions here, all of which may have experienced their share of escapees. Roe however do not appear to have ever been kept in captivity on the Isle of Wight.

But this is not the only source of deer on the island.

Deer are very athletic creatures on land but what is less well known is that they are strong swimmers that will readily take to the water, especially if they have been disturbed. It is within the normal habits of males of the herding deer, Red stags and Fallow bucks, to travel great distances around the time of the rut in the autumn. With Roe deer the situation is slightly different as both sexes may travel significant distances to set up new territories, usually in the spring.

Even as long ago as the early 17thcentury Sir John Oglander remarked on the presence on his land of a stag that had swum across from the New Forest whilst being hunted and in the modern era deer have been observed swimming in the Solent and Southampton Water. This was probably how the Roe deer whose tracks were seen on the island in 2013 got here.

It is also evident that whatever their origin at least some of these deer are now breeding in the wild. In late May 2013 I had the pleasure of observing a mature hind accompanied by a yearling, I followed these animals over a few weeks and in early June I noticed a change in demeanour of the older animal, she started to behave aggressively towards the younger one and chased her off with her neck outstretched.

Close observation also revealed that she would then head for a particular area of long grasses and overhanging brambles. This is typical behaviour of a maternal hind with a new born calf. By discretely following these deer over the next few weeks I was able to see from some distance through binoculars that this was the typical Red deer maternal group of mature hind, yearling and calf.

The Isle of Wight has long suffered from a lack of sufficient deer grazing, wood pasture habitats are threatened along with the Bats that use these areas as feeding grounds, the loss of Lichens due to overgrowths of Bramble has been noted in Parkhurst Forest. The Wood Calamint, the only native plant unique to the Isle of Wight has also been threatened by more vigorous vegetation. Browsing and grazing by deer are part of the essential natural processes by which these detrimental effects are prevented.

So what of the future 60 years, particularly for our native Red and Roe?

Defra have said that there are plans to draw up a deer policy statement for the island, and the Deer Initiative publishes “Best Practice” guidelines on which these policies are based.

If a responsible and positive attitude is shown by both private and public woodland managers alike, there is every reason to suppose that these deer will play their part in enriching biodiversity on the Isle of Wight and prove to be an attraction for our tourist based economy.

This blog first appeared as one of a series on the Mammal Society’s 60for60  page

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  deerwight@gmail.com

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 and calf 2.8.14

Red deer hind and calf

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

What happens when you have too few deer?

What happens when you have too few deer?

The risks posed to woodland ecology by having too many deer are well publicised but what is less well known is that having too few deer is also very detrimental to biological diversity.

What are the damaging signs of having too few deer?

Typically a reduction in species diversity with fewer more vigorous species coming to dominate, habitats such as wood pasture and edge begin to disappear.

So how might this manifest itself on the Isle of Wight?

We can expect subtle long term changes to our woodland flora with vulnerable species being most at risk. One such plant, the Wood Calamint, which is unique to the island within the UK, has suffered due to mature over growths of Hazel, as a result it is now very much endangered. This rare plant does not enjoy being shaded by more vigorous vegetation, likewise the heathland habitat of the very scarce Reddish buff moth is threatened by woody encroachment, deer grazing is a natural process that helps to prevent this.

Are there any examples of damage to the island’s woodlands that has already occurred?

The Forestry Commission have said that in Parkhurst Forest “Rare, remnant pre-enclosure pasture woodland and open heath grassland species have hung on in the post-enclosure high forest but are under threat from the un­checked growth of vegetation.”

Parkhurst was originally a hunting preserve for the nobility, before the forest was enclosed in the early 19thcentury these pastures benefited by being grazed by around 200 deer.

So why are wood pasture habitats so important?

Wood pasture contains a diversity of flowering species, and are important feeding grounds for lepidoptera, whilst many of our woodland bats feed on invertebrates found there. One of our rarest, the Greater Horseshoe, benefits from feeding on the beetles found in deer dung. The very rare Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly thrives where deer grazing slows down natural regeneration and helps to maintain open areas of Bracken in canopy gaps and along woodland edges.

Is there any other evidence of long term damage caused by over growths of vegetation in Parkhurst Forest?

The Wessex Lichens group have reported that some areas are “desperately overgrown with even the rides lost to dense bramble with an under storey of Sycamore between the trees” and that “the forest’s lichen old woodland assemblages are suffering from increasing and dense shade”

Are any of the island’s birds being affected by the lack of sufficient deer grazing?

Three birds that are common in the New Forest but largely absent from the Isle of Wight are the Tawny Owl, Common Redstart and Nuthatch. Beetles such as those associated with deer dung can be an important part of these bird’s diet, the Tawny Owl also feeds on Wood Mice and Bank Voles. In order to catch these small mammals they require some of the habitat within woodlands to be more open without a large amount of dense cover.  The Common  Redstart also prefers these more open woodland areas that deer grazing and browsing helps to create.  It would appear that our local woods are no longer suitable for these birds.

So what might be the best approach to managing deer in the Isle of Wight’s woodlands?

Trinity College, Dublin has recently published some interesting research Exclusion of large herbivores: Long-term changes within the plant community in which they found that excluding deer from Oak woods was harmful to biodiversity, to quote one of the authors, Dr Miles Newman ” Woodland ecology, it seems is a little like life- it’s often best to do things in moderation. If there is too much or too little grazing, these important habitats may lose valuable species for good.”

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  deerwight@gmail.com

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 Stag

Red Deer Stag

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

Introduced or Native, Wild or Farmed?

Isle of Wight Deer – Introduced or Native, Wild or Farmed?

 The Isle of Wight’s wild deer have variously been described as introduced and deer farm escapees, but is this really true?

Wild deer in England, including the Isle of Wight are currently defined as:-

Natives* – Red and Roe deer

Introduced – Fallow deer and Muntjac deer .

So where have these deer come from?

Captive deer

Up until the end of the 20th century there had been several commercial deer farms trading on the island and tourist enterprises that held captive deer populations. Today captive deer may be found in deer parks near Newport and Chale.

Deer may have escaped from some of these establishments , if there are any remaining escapees that originated from an island deer farm left however, they would now be very old animals.

Migration from the mainland

Deer are very athletic creatures on land but what is less well known is that they are strong swimmers that will readily take to the water, especially if they have been disturbed. It is within the normal habits of males of the herding deer, Red Stags and Fallow Bucks, to travel great distances around the time of the rut in the autumn. With Roe deer the situation is slightly different as both sexes may travel significant distances to set up new territories, usually in the spring.

Even as long ago as the early 17thcentury Sir John Oglander remarked on the presence on his land of a Stag that had swum across from the New Forest whilst being hunted and in the modern era the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust have commented that deer are occasionally seen swimming across The Solent during slack tides. This was probably how the Roe deer whose tracks were seen on the island in 2013 got here as Roe are not usually kept in captivity.

Breeding in the wild

Whatever the origins of the parent stock it is clear from observation of deer with young that these animals are breeding in the wild, again a situation reflected on the mainland where expanding deer populations may be the descendants of both migrating and released deer.

So how do you tell the difference between a wild deer and an escaped farmed deer and why is it so important to know?

The Forestry Commission have helped to defined this:-

“deer that have escaped from captivity and are not visibly marked are considered feral wild deer”

What this means in practice is that unless it has a visible ear tag, collar or brand mark that shows that it belongs to someone and it is not held captive it is a wild deer.

So why is this so important?

Farmed deer like any other livestock always belong to the owner, even if the deer has escaped onto somebody else’s land. If you find such a deer on your property you are entitled to impound the animal and demand payment for any damage done by it from the owner. What you are not entitled to do is kill it and keep the carcase!

Wild deer on the other hand belong to nobody whilst they are still alive. The sporting rights holder of the land on which these deer are found has the right to take and kill these deer outside of the close season at which point the carcase becomes their property. This right may be delegated to another acting on their behalf, eg. a professional deer manager or a paying guest.

*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  deerwight@gmail.com

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

Farmed tagged deer

Farmed tagged deer

Roe buck

Untagged wild deer

Deer and the environment

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  deerwight@gmail.com

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

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  deerwight@gmail.com

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

Gallery

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 do not infect the ticks but it is the ticks that infect the deer!

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

 

*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  deerwight@gmail.com

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