Dear, oh deer! I have just learned there are more of the latter wandering around England these days than there are in Oak Bay. The inhabitants of country road lanes like Prospect Place and San Carlos may find that hard to believe as they try to keep a small but growing herd from traipsing through their gardens searching for gastronomic delights.
Out in Saanich and the length of the Peninsula, free-foraging Bambis and their parents create havoc in farm fields, plundering crops in such devastating fashion that some farmers having given up trying to grow fruit and veg; homeowners despair as their carefully planted and nurtured flowers disappear in early bloom.
It’s a problem every Vancouver Island community has grappled with, lamented over and demanded solutions for years to no avail. The mere whisper of the one-word quick solution — “cull” — bring cries of anguish from the masses, most of whom live in deer-free condos or tight-knit urban streets with few gardens and no fields offering fresh fruit and green delights.
Now, it would appear, we are not alone, as the Brits have discovered one of the six species of deer found in the U.K. — the pretty-looking roe deer — is munching its way through all-too-rare woodlands, or “spinneys” as we used to call them in my youth. Possibly because they have been dealing with deer problems since Robin Hood “culled and controlled” the King’s herds in Nottingham Forest, the Brits now appear ready to guide themselves and their Canadian cousins (if we are not too proud to borrow ideas) to an enlightened, environmental and animal-lover-satisfactory solution.
A few years ago, Durham University and FERA, the Food and Environment Research Agency, established a team to check “roe deer density and the structure and diversity of vegetation in British woodlands [and] the abundance and diversity of plants and birds in British woodlands.” The study was not the first to address the deer population explosion and problem.
Back in 1995, the Brits had launched The Deer Initiative. Its mandate was to find ways and means to organize “sustainable management of wild deer” in England and Wales. The Scots, presumably, were regarded as being close enough to independence, and so could manage their own crop of the attractive predators.
Georgina Palmer, co-author of the report made public late in 2012 by Durham U. and FERA, was cautious in her language. A BBC report tells us Palmer confirmed that while overgrazing by deer “had a knock-on effect that undermined woodland ecologies” she wasn’t yet ready to place all the blame for reduced vegetation and song bird population on the one specie — roe deer.
The U.K. boasts six species of deer, with the roe, red and fallow regarded as native (the BBC primly notes the fallow deer has only been chewing up England and Wales since around since the 11th century, so isn’t really native).The munjac, sika and Chinese water deer introduced a mere 150 years ago remain new arrivals. Palmer says she and her team studied only the increasing population of roe deer and decreasing plant and bird life. She told the BBC: “I am still analyzing this data.”
Well, I suppose after all this time there’s no hurry to pin the blame on one specie when six are at the table, but I would suggest there is some urgency to finding and initiating a “sustainable management of wild deer plan,” both in the U.K. and here on our little Island.
A couple of quotes from the BBC report on the 1995 Deer Initiative study might help our farmers — and gardeners — as they continue their battle. They might even spur a little action on the UVic campus or down at the legislature. And they could provide some second thoughts for those of us who refuse to believe anything bad could come from such charming creatures: “Deer often have specific impacts on vulnerable habitat as well as agriculture and forestry. The animals tend to range over large areas and need to be managed on a landscape scale.… The threat from deer to woodlands consists of a number of factors, including a reduction in the growth and density of saplings, bark damage and a change in the composition of under-storey vegetation.”
And a final BBC note from the annual meeting of the British Ecological Society held a short time ago in the heart of industrial Birmingham: “There was growing concern regarding the cascading effects deer may have on other components of biodiversity, such as fewer suitable nesting sites for birds and a reduction in food sources for other woodland species.”
It’s time for a “sustainable management” plan to prevent our songbirds and “other woodland species,” including farmers and gardeners, from being eaten out of house and home.
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