Friday, 8 March 2013

Does one and a half million deer mean more food for Britain's Big Cats?

A recent study by the University of East Anglia into deer population in Thetford Forest on the Norfolk/Suffolk border reveals the UK deer population is much bigger than previous believed - as many as one and a half million. This is reaching population levels not seen since the Ice Age. While it's been covered a lot in the news of late, so far I haven't come across any discussion on the implications of this for Britain's "Alien Big Cat" population.

Bits of deer are among the items on Jonathan McGowan's stall showing evidence of British "Big Cat" kills that he's collected over the years

British "Big Cat" expert Jonathan McGowan (he prefers the term "large cat" to describe the predators at large in the UK, which aren't so alien anymore,) in a talk on Britain's "large cats" at last year's CFZ "Weird Weekend" conference, said "Deer are the key to big cats… Throughout Britain, wherever there are deer in large numbers, there a large cats." He mentioned sika deer in particular, which are "great breeders." Sika deer are now established in Norfolk, and are turning up occasionally in Suffolk, and Suffolk's wildlife and conservation people have been concerned for some years now that muntjac deer in particular are destroying the bluebells in the bluebell woods. Back in 2009, Dr Simone Bullion's The Mammals of Suffolk was already talking about "the triumph of the deer."

Further afield, roe deer have been reported living in an urban cemetery in Sheffield, and wild muntjac are occasionally seen on the very urban London Borough of Haringey's Parkland Walk.

An explosion in deer populations and a much bigger population of deer than we knew about would presumably mean that if there is a "large cat" breeding population established in Britain - with so many deer to feast on - it must be doing rather well! Could it be that the "large cat" population, with a greater food source than we thought, could itself be bigger than we imagined?

Apparently, the massive deer cull that's being suggested as a result of the UEA study - around 60 per cent of the total UK deer population is being proposed - won't help reduce numbers all that much. In the Thetford Forest, the study showed about 2,000 deer a year are being "pushed out" of the forest by population pressures. Dr Paul Dolman, lead author of the UEA study, interviewed on BBC Radio 4's Today programme yesterday (11/03/13,)said that where there are regular deer culls, the deer tend to move out of the area. (Wouldn't you?!)

So not only is the "large cats'" favourite food source much bigger than previously believed, but deer are colonising new areas - good news for Britain's yet-to-be-officially-confirmed "large cat" population.

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