I’ve been working on a woodland management plan for a farm near Bude in North Cornwall. They have 50 acres of woodland and the new owners are keen to get to grips with the woodlands. A simple summary would be some excellent conifer stands, a bit over 40 years old, but recent broadleaved plantings have provided lunch for far too many deer!
Deer have spread and increased in numbers over recent years, which are now possibly the highest for one thousand years. Reasons for this include milder winters, more winter crops and increased woodland cover. Also their natural predators, bear, lynx and wolves have long been hunted to extinction in this country. Public antipathy to killing wild animals and the increased interest in wildlife and conservation is also likely to have had an effect.
Thirty years ago, Roe were just beginning to spread into the county, but deer were rarely a factor when planning a new planting scheme. Treragin Wood was planted with a mix of 60cm and 75cm high tree shelters and spiral guards, and rabbits were the only concern, although occasionally voles would have a go at the roots of some trees. 22 years later and we have regular roe deer in the wood, and I am sure we would have many more problems if we were planting now.
Back at the farm I am working on, some of the earlier planting had shelters extended by adding second one on top, but later ones had gone to the expense of using a 1.8 metre tree shelter. These are expensive, and can cause problems with rapid thin growth leading to unstable saplings. Nevertheless the solution was working. Some bigger planting schemes use deer fences, which are normally of high tensile wire netting, and this was a common practice for large areas planted in the late 90s under the South West Forest initiative. Plastic netting solutions are now also available, a good short term solution for enabling a young plantation to establish.
The conifers will require felling and replanting shortly, so solutions to reduce the deer impact will need to be found before then. Cue an advisory visit from the Deer Management Initiative, which I will cover in my next blog. Further down the line we may also need the Initiative’s help at Holford, where a herd of up to 80 red deer regularly congregate in fields next to our woodland. That will need careful thought and handling, for the area has had a history of conflict between local hunts and the League Against Cruel Sports, who retain the sporting rights on the property.