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Suffolk: Region ‘getting to grips” with deer numbers

PUBLISHED: 10:56 05 June 2014

muntjac deer

muntjac deer

Archant

Wildlife leaders hope the tide may be turning in the battle to stop deer stripping areas of the county’s most important woodland.

An increase in the number of deer has caused damage to woodland structures as they graze on coppice regrowth, ground flora and shrubs that provide a vital habitat for woodland birds.

There have also been fears deer activity could impact on the number of trees resistant to the deadly ash dieback disease, with new growth and young ash being eaten before they can produce seed.

Giles Cawston, west Suffolk reserves assistant for Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said stalking deer in sites such as Bradfield Woods, a National Nature Reserve, appeared to be showing positive results with improved regrowth and woodland structure.

He said that although compartments of coppiced areas are fenced with dead hedging, culling was a necessary management tool.

“Sometimes the deer find their way through the fences and, if they do, they can decimate the area.

“You’ve got to ask yourself, which is the most important species? The really old coppice or an invasive deer species like Muntjac, which shouldn’t really be in the country?”

Mr Cawston added: “There has been a significant increase in deer numbers over the last ten years, in the whole of Suffolk and East Anglia. But in the last 12 months, I think we have really got to grips with the
culling, especially in Bradfield Woods.”

Mr Cawston said results from the latest twice-annual deer impact survey suggested deer activity and damage had decreased over the last 12 months.

“It’s very obvious this year in Bradfield how good the regrowth is. You can physically see the wood is in better condition and there is lots of regeneration,”

Crucially, the management could help in the fight against ash dieback, which is rife across the county. Mr Cawston said: “We have got Chalara in Bradfield, and that’s more of a threat to the woods now than the deer because it is uncontrollable.

“But if you’ve got a young ash tree that’s potentially resilient and it gets eaten by a deer, then it is never going to grow on and produce seed that is also resilient and start respreading the ash.”

Dorothy Casey, head of conservation at Suffolk Wildlife Trust, said it was important for people to realise deer were being culled to protect fragile habitats.

She added: “We’ve got very good data about the impact on deer browsing on woodland birds. Long term research by the BTO has shown impact of deer on birds such as willow warbler, nightingale, garden warbler and dunnock – all those birds that need good dense shrub layer are declining and there is a very clear link with deer browsing.”

Ms Casey said although anecdotal evidence suggests the deer population may be on the cusp of stabilising in some areas of the county, management is only effective if other woodland owners continue to work together.

“We will continue to work with neighbouring landowners to ensure deer control is co-ordinated on a landscape scale,” she said.

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