The British deer population is believed to be at its highest level for 1,000 years, with some 1.5 million red, roe, fallow, sika, muntjac and Chinese water deer in our countryside and semi-urban areas. Numbers may have doubled since 1999, according to the Deer Initiative (which promotes the sustainable management of wild deer) and other sources. In the south west red deer and roe deer are most common and new plantings have to carefully consider potential protection against browsing by deer.
If the UK was natural, we would have lynx, bear and wolves as natural predators of deer, but these have all been hunted to extinction in historic times. Until recently people living off the land also kept numbers down through hunting for the pot. Modern farming also helps provide rich easy pickings of food throughout the year.
Deer can have a significant harmful effect on woodlands through overgrazing. Browsing by deer can mean less natural groundflora such as bluebells, and also reduced or numbers of young trees seeding in by natural regeneration. It is a particular issue at Holford, one of our own areas of woodland, as the local area has been maintained as a deer sanctuary by the League Against Cruel Sports. A herd of up to 80 red deer can frequently be found in the fields adjacent to our woods.
The woodland is a site of Special Scientific Interest, and we therefore wish to manage the site to the highest standards. Culling of the deer is not an option as LACS retain sporting rights. We have therefore just completed the erection of a deer fence around part of the woodland, to exclude or reduce the number of deer in the wood. The fence joins up with a similar fence previously erected by Somerset Wildlife Trust on their Holford Kelting reserve.
The fence grant aided by Countryside Stewardship, and we finally got Spud (EdwardJHillman Fencing) on site in the last month. A man very much in demand and recommended for anyone wanting agricultural fencing in the Somerset area.
The deer still have free access to the adjacent field and are still left to graze Alfoxton Wood, an area traditionally managed as wood pasture. In that case deer can help to maintain the ideal habitat, where low key grazing and protection of all veteran trees is the ideal management.
We will now monitor the fence and see how it affects deer movements in the area.