The past 12 months have been an interesting time for wild deer sightings on the island with numerous new reports of their presence.
Roe deer have been seen at multiple locations across the island during late spring and summer, including the great photo of the Roe buck seen in West Wight which was shared around social media. There was also the well publicised but sad demise of a Roe buck that took to the water at Puckpool Park on the island and drowned in a rescue attempt off Southsea.
There have been a few sightings of Red deer, but most observations are of Muntjac, either singly or in pairs. Muntjac deer are great hiders and for people to be regularly spotting them indicates that numbers may be increasing. However there have been no reports of any noticeable damage incurred by any of the deer species.
There have been no new sightings of Sika deer reported to the survey since last year,
There have yet to be any sightings of Chinese Water Deer on the Isle of Wight. Despite their love of wetland habitats, and unlike other deer, they seem to be reluctant to take to the sea.
From the reports to the survey wild deer appear to be thinly dispersed across most of the island and are not at all common anywhere. They have also been seen swimming across the Solent in both directions.
It is becoming evident from the interest shown in the media reports that members of the public are pleased to see deer on the Island, with many having no idea that there were any here. Sharing knowledge about the benefits of having a deer population on the Island is important.
Deer Management Plans
One of the odd things about the Isle of Wight is that we are one of the few, if not the only, English County which lacks a properly conceived deer management plan.
Deer management plans (DMPs) provide a practical and effective framework within which landowners, land and deer managers can acknowledge and then attempt to balance the differing uses demanded from an area of land. A central principle of all DMPs is that good deer management should aim to maintain healthy deer populations in balance with their environment.
They are drawn up after consideration of many factors and require background information relating to what species of deer are present, their numbers, their habitat and what impact they may be having on it, these impacts can be beneficial and it would be a mistake to simply assume that all deer impacts will be negative. In fact research by the Forestry Commission and respected academic institutions clearly demonstrates that woodland biodiversity is at its maximum when sufficient deer grazing is taking place.
So why bother with a DMP at all and why not just leave things to nature to sort out? Unfortunately with so many conflicting land uses this is not possible, especially with the risks to biodiversity posed by imbalances caused by there being either too few or too many deer present. But there are other factors to consider, alien invasive species of deer may displace the native ones, fears have been expressed about Muntjac displacing Roe, and Sika hybridising with Red deer. And of course without a properly conceived DMP some irresponsible land managers will see deer solely as vermin and try to exterminate every last one of them, whatever damage to environment may result.
Unlike many areas of the mainland that suffer from having too many deer, on the Isle of Wight we have the opposite problem, too few deer. This lack of deer grazing in our woodlands has led to wood pasture habitats becoming threatened and the progressive loss of some of the island’s rich woodland biodiversity.
Scientific research describes how the Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly benefits from deer grazed woodlands. Sadly in recent years this species has become lost to the island.
Isle of Wight Deer Conservation continues to strive for the establishment of a well balanced DMP for the island.
A successful deer reintroduction project
The Pirbright ranges comprise of 720 hectares of SSSI lowland heath owned by the M.O.D. in Surrey.
Lowland heath only exists in a narrow belt along the North Atlantic seaboard and between 1850 and 1980 the UK lost 85% of this valuable wildlife habitat.
Management of this land had proved to be problematic, there were frequent uncontrollable fires that threatened both the rare resident wildlife and nearby homes, and there was the threat of the land reverting to scrub and secondary woodland with further losses of the heath together with its dependent species.
In conjunction with the Surrey Wildlife Trust a number of options were considered including brush cutting, turf stripping and grazing by domestic livestock. However, the solution that has proved to be most successful was the reintroduction of native red deer that had been absent from the site for around 200 years.
Since the commencement of the project in 2010 these deer have been progressively building up their numbers to a herd size of 160 animals in 2016.
The grazing action of these deer has as anticipated prevented further scrub regression and heather has been kept at the pioneer stage to the benefit of woodlarks and the heather heath beetle. But there have been other beneficial effects as well. Preferential grazing of grasses has led to the creation of transitional areas of acid grassland and mires which support communities of the plants and invertebrates that prefer that kind of special habitat whilst bare areas of deer trackways are utilised by burrowing solitary bees.
The project has been considered an outstanding success. It has attracted international interest and has received the Sanctuary Award for environmental contributions to MOD land.
For further information on the Pirbright Ranges Deer Project please contact the Surrey Wildlife Trust
IW Deer Conservation would like to express their gratitude to all those that have chosen to participate in the survey so far. To help us to build up as comprehensive a picture as possible about the island’s deer further participation in the Isle of Wight Deer Survey from individuals, businesses and other organisations is most welcome.
For periodic updates please email email@example.com, thank you for your interest and support
External links that you may find interesting:-
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Isle of Wight Deer Conservation
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