What could be better for a visitor on their first trip to Scotland than to spot a majestic ‘Monarch of The Glen’ – a red deer stag? But there is a whole other side to the story, a growing problem of man’s own making. Over the years, by removing all our apex predators, we have totally changed the balance of nature as it was originally.
The Highlands is where the country’s deer problem can be seen clearly: they gorge themselves upon gardens and crops and vegetable patches, they run blindly into the road as speeding cars approach. The true scale of the problem is hard to gauge, but the best guess is that there might now be as many as 1.5m deer in the UK, at least half of them in Scotland; more than at any time since the last ice age! They roam bare hills in vast herds – in the Cairngorms they have been seen in herds of around a thousand animals.
Wolves and the lynx, could provide an efficient and natural means of controlling deer populations. High deer numbers have a significant economic and ecological effect because they compete with livestock for grazing and impede attempts to re-forest, thereby reducing bird densities. Predators would reduce the financial burden of costly deer culls and so would help reach Scotland’s Deer Commission target of six deer per square kilometre. But there is still the challenge of making this vision to restore a native Highland ecosystem economically viable.
Rewilding is the new key buzzword, and other countries have made huge strides forward, but sadly apart from a few ‘voices in the wilderness’ there’s just not much progress in the UK so far.
- They survived the Ice Age in Britain, unlike Fallow deer, which became extinct and were reintroduced by the Normans in the 11th century.
- A stag can weigh up to 190kg (420lbs), making Red deer the largest land mammal in the UK
- How do stags sort out conflicts outside the rutting season, when their antlers aren’t fully formed? They box with their fore legs, just like the hinds do when sorting out their status issues.
- Highland deer grow smaller antlers with fewer points than lowland deer because of a less nutritious diet.
- Growing antlers are covered in velvet. But what exactly is velvet?A soft, blood-filled skin that supplies the growing antlers with oxygen and nutrients.