Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Too many deer......too few trees

No trees too many Red deer 
If I look down from my bedroom window in the small hours of a moonlit winter's night there are large grey shapes mooching around in the field that runs down to the sea.

During most of the year these red deer are cautious and keep away but tonight they are hungry, perhaps even starving. They have come down from the hill jumping barbed wire fences, browsing  and trampling  my newly planted trees.The night visitors

Until two or three years ago there was only a small population of deer at the west end of the peninsula but without effective culling there's been a population boom as in the rest of Scotland.

A deer trail down from the hill
follow the black lines and you'll find the deer
It's been estimated that since the 1960s Scotland's deer (red and roe deer) population has doubled and we now have more red deer than at any time since the end of the last ice age. Until recently trees could be planted here  (on the west end of the peninsula) without a two metre high fence to keep deer out.

Fencing costs are well over £3,000 per hectare, more than the trees, the planting , site preparation and subsequent maintenance. The Scottish Government's planting target is !0,000 ha each year until 2020 then 15,000 ha after that. Fencing will cost £300 million a year for the next four years then £450 million each year afterwards.

There is an alternative to fencing............. In Glen Feshie fifteen years ago the Red Deer Commission, the government body that oversaw deer management in Scotland at the time, began a huge cull after widespread destruction of native plants, trees and  the  arctic-alpine nesting habitat of the  Dotterel ,one of Scotland's rarest breeding birds. A team of stalkers using helicopters and high powered rifles reduced deer numbers from 1,500 to 400 in a year. The results were dramatic.Glen Feshie - Zero tolerance for deer

Deer hait on a barbed wire fence
When I visited Glen Feshie three years later there was widespread regeneration of native scots pines, the arctic alpine flora was flourishing and so were the dotterels. There was still a population of red deer, just fewer, giving a genuine hunting experience for the hunters. As opposed to the "canned hunting" available on many Highland estates where the hunting is more like the ritual slaughter of animals that have been hand fed in winter . The hunters are transported up on to the hill, they seem to have forgotten how to walk and hunt.

Where new woods are being planted fewer than 10 deer per square kilometre means that we can probably do without fences, damage is minimised.

Halving our deer population would mean; reducing the cost of planting, by up to half, more natural regeneration, more  CO2 sequestered and a more authentic experience for hunters.  The great cull doesn't mean just hunting;  wolves could be re-introduced in the highlands. More on that next time......

The rags are soaked in diesel, it's supposed to deter the deer

















1 comment:

David said...

I have the same problem half way along the peninsula ... deer everywhere. They come down off the hill and eat everything except the invasive rhododendron. I'm investigating 'invisible' nylon fencing strands and motion-activated lights. The trees are in and about to come into leaf ... https://www.sunartdiaries.co.uk/2019/08/01/deer-and-reforestation/

People should be encouraged to eat venison. If we switched from beef to venison it would significantly reduce carbon production. A win-win situation.

I think current estimates suggest that the Scottish deer population is probably 6 to 8 times too high from reforestation.

Good luck keeping them away ;-)