NATURE NOTES - Deer in Wigan

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AFTER last week’s Nature Notes I’ve had a deluge of phone calls and emails from residents of the borough, many who thought their eyes were deceiving them and they had not seen what they thought they had – deer!

One was particularly interesting in that the person knew what he’d seen – a fallow deer hind – just in the borough, this was quickly followed by someone else who had seen sika deer on our boundary!

So what do we know about the different species?

Roe Deer

The roe deer is primarily an animal of mixed and small woodland but is capable of adapting to a wide variety of habitats. It has colonised the northern conifer forests and has penetrated many towns, making use of gardens, parks and other open spaces where there is food and cover. It may also be seen well out into open farmland. It is a native species, however, probably because of over-hunting, it became extremely scarce in medieval times and by 1700 was considered extinct in southern and central England and all of Wales. It also disappeared in most regions of Scotland except for the northern Highlands. Today, roe deer occur in most of southern England, all of northern England and Scotland, and they are continuing to spread into the Midlands and Wales.

Sika Deer

A non-native species, originating from the Far East where some 13 different races are recognised, many of them endangered in their native countries.

Most sika in Britain are Japanese in origin and were brought first to Ireland in about 1860, to Powerscourt, and thence to a variety of places in England and Scotland. Some were released deliberately, eg. in Kintyre, the New Forest, Dorset and Bowland forest. The deer at Bowland are thought to have been Manchurian sika. Others escaped from parks, especially during the two World Wars, and established feral populations. Sika prefer woodland or thicket and graze on nearby open areas such as farmland or heath/moorland. They are herding animals which rut in the autumn, usually producing single calves in the spring.

Fallow Deer

Fallow are considered as a naturalised, though re-introduced species. Although fallow deer were present some 400,000 years ago in Britain, later glaciations restricted them to the Mediterranean basin. There are no reliable records of them being imported into Britain before the Norman Conquest, after which they were kept widely in parks for both food and ornament. They were also preserved in the wild for hunting, eg. in Epping Forest and the New Forest.

The present feral population owes its existence largely to park escapes. Many parks were broken up during the Civil War (1642) and again during the two World Wars. The fallow deer range and numbers have increased substantially since 1972.

There are three other deer species in the UK but so far none have spread into the borough our native red deer, and two introduced species, muntjac and Chinese Water Deer.