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

Advertisements

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

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