The reason the web-site has been very quiet for the last month is because I have been rather busy. Most of the last month has been spent working for Dartmoor National Park, helping them with a Heritage Lottery funded project. A rush job, as they have to submit detailed plans for their stage 2 bid next month, and needed help with a landscape and access plan for the Postbridge and Bellever area.
Back on the theme of woodland management, just before things got busy, I spent a morning with John Stowers, of the Deer Management Initiative, looking at the issues at a farm in north Cornwall. We had a good time, and at the end of the tour, we both felt we had learned quite a lot.
The Forestry Commission wildlife ranger had told me that there were quite a few roe and red deer in the area, and I thought I had seen a couple of roe on my first visit. But not far into the walk around, John was convinced that the majority of the damage to the young trees was caused by red deer. This was based on the height of browsing, both young trees and brambles, but also the size and numbers of different hoof prints. Roe deer leave slots of 4-5 cms long, whereas red deer slots are about twice the size. We also found three wallows in the wood – wet areas where the males were choosing to roll and cover themselves in mud to help attract the females. This is much more typical of red deer, by both sexes shedding their coats in the summer, or by males in the autumn getting ready for the rutting season.
As well as grazing the tops of young trees, deer can also damage the bark of saplings; this fraying can be territorial marking or rubbing velvet off their antlers. Either way it’s not ideal for the tree! In larger numbers deer can also dramatically affect the groundflora, both through grazing and poaching of the ground. Bluebells have declined in our woods in Holford as a result of grazing pressures, and some areas look like we deliberately let animals in over the winter.
I talked about tree shelters in my last blog, but sometimes it can be preferable to cull numbers. Although Wildlife Woodlands opposes hunting with hounds, well planned and managed culling is an acceptable means of control, and essential for some woodland conservation. Natural predators have already been taken out by human intervention, wolves becoming extinct around 1500, Brown Bear pre 1000, and Lynx back around 400AD. We are a crowded island, and no habitats in this country are truly natural.
For the woodland John and I were looking at, the plan is to talk to neighbouring landowners, and see if there is scope for co-operation and possibly a deer management group. Red Deer cover quite a wide area, and sustainable management can not be undertaken by a single farmer in isolation. Options for the woods include high seats and creating open glades to act as deer lawns. But before culling on a site can begin, an accurate assessment of numbers, and levels of damage on a site are essential. Records should be kept, and individual targets set for males and females, with monitoring of results changing targets for the following year. Time to call in an expert, and in John’s eyes, that’s someone with a level 2 qualification.