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Deer Project

Sika deer grazing on Hartland Moor

In 2007, in response to a request from the National Trust's Purbeck Estate, The Purbeck Association donated £2000 towards a project to study the deer on the estate. The following information about the project has been supplied by Angela Peters, The National Trust's Ecologist on the Purbeck Estate.

For over a hundred years Purbeck has had a herd of sika deer Cervus nippon, native to Japan, roaming freely across the land. They were introduced in the 19th century to deer parks in Dorset but escaped and have been accepted as part of the local ecology. They survive well on the lowland heathlands, making use of the cover of scrub and browsing on grasses and young tree shoots. They serve a purpose within their ecological niche keeping scrub from encroaching onto valuable heathland and mires, and keeping grasses in check. Where deer numbers are high however they can cause damage to precious ecosystems. They live alongside the native Roe deer Capreolus capreolus but these occur in smaller numbers in Purbeck.

The National Trust has been managing the sika across its holdings in Purbeck since the land was bequeathed to them in 1982 from the Bankes Estate. Over the last few years The National Trust have supplemented their stalker’s knowledge of the deer with coordinated twice annual counts assisted by about 60 volunteers.

The Trust needs to understand how the animals are dispersed and how they are affecting the different habitats so they can work out how best to manage the population.

Bournemouth University have over recent years been studying the effects of sika on rare saltmarsh and heathland habitats on the RSPB’s Arne reserve and this year were able to get the funding for a PhD to complement this research.

The National Trust are partners in this project working with Bournemouth University and other conservation organisations in Purbeck to further our understanding of the animal’s effects on rare habitats. A generous donation from the Purbeck Association of National Trust members of £2000 allowed for 12 radio collars to be purchased for the project. A number of local stalkers and volunteers spent many weekends earlier this year in attempts to attach the collars, led by Johnny O’Brien, eventually with the success of fixing them onto ten hinds at Hartland. So a big thank you goes out to all those helpers for their efforts! 

Antonio tracking the sika deer

Dr Anita Diaz, Senior Lecturer in Conservation Sciences at Bournemouth University, is supervising the study, and PhD student Antonio Uzal Fernadez is currently radio-tracking the ten hinds at Hartland Moor. In the Hartland Moor/Middlebere Heath area there is a large group of animals and this summer the females have been staying put as they are give birth. The stags move around more than the hinds, often ranging long distances. Some stags have been fitted with GPS collars, funded by the Ministry of Defence

The three year study (entitled Grazing by deer as a tool for conserving heathlands: measuring and predicting impacts on plant communities) will bring in information about how the animals utilise different habitats and how they are influencing vegetation. Landowners, including the Trust will be able to fine tune their deer management, working in partnership with other landowners, to manage the sika deer effectively.

We hope to bring you more news and pictures about this study as it progresses. In the meantime here are a couple of links to other sites:

Bournemouth University Ministry of Defence Antonio

This page was last updated 28 November 2013

© The Purbeck Association of The National Trust