Thursday, 5 February 2015

Oh deer, oh deer. Proposed cull of 10 Deer at Leighton Moss

Stag at Leighton Moss

You may have seen the news yesterday on tv about the proposed deer cull at RSPB Leighton Moss
Lots on the forum chat

Difficult decisions

Here's more information from our Site Manager to explain the situation:
RSPB Leighton Moss is situated in an area of outstanding natural beauty, enjoyed by thousands of people every year. The RSPB wants to continue to attract visitors to the area to ensure future generations are inspired by their natural surroundings. This can only be achieved if we manage the special habitats here for all wildlife, so that species such as bitterns, otters and marsh harriers can thrive.
As part of maintaining this wonderful landscape and managing valuable habitats such as the reedbed, it has become necessary to control the deer population at Leighton Moss. Red deer are a native species and are important to the site. However, the current deer population on and around Leighton Moss has increased steadily in recent years, resulting in excessive deer grazing pressure. This has caused significant damage to the important reedbed habitat, which is impacting on key species of birds and other wildlife.
In order to protect the iconic and internationally important reedbed at Leighton Moss, the RSPB needs to take action to reduce and then maintain the populations of deer. Leighton Moss is currently designated as Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Protection Area (SPA) and as such, we have a legal responsibility to improve and maintain the condition of these habitats.
We review the condition of the habitats on an annual basis and use this to determine our management actions.  It was through this process over a number of years that we identified that the habitat condition at Leighton Moss was deteriorating due to deer browsing pressure.  We are a science-led organisation and base our decisions on the best available evidence. Using a combination of data from habitat surveys, deer counts, aerial footage and fixed point photography, we have concluded that deer are having a significant negative impact on the reedbed.  
Deer have no natural predators in the UK and with relatively mild winters, there is little mortality caused by the frost and snow. Therefore their population levels are not naturally kept in check. The deer population at Leighton Moss and the surrounding area has been steadily increasing since the early 1980s and has now reached a level which is not sustainable for the health of the reedbed and surrounding land. Deer management will help to address this and maintain the health of the reedbed ecosystem, enabling the red deer to thrive alongside a rich variety of important wildlife.
The decision to control deer has not been taken lightly and we are not alone in having to do this. Deer control is a legal and widely undertaken part of countryside management in Lancashire, Cumbria and elsewhere in the UK. We have a legal responsibility to maintain and improve the condition of the nationally important wildlife habitats at Leighton Moss, and the deer control will be carried out as part of a wider landscape scale deer management programme in the area. The RSPB is a science-based organisation and we considered all non-lethal alternatives before determining this was the only remaining option to restore the quality of the habitat.  
Fencing is not a suitable option as we do not want to fence deer in or exclude all deer from the site, but maintain a sustainable population of red deer at Leighton Moss. By using fencing to exclude deer, the problem of deer grazing pressure would move elsewhere in the area. We could also not guarantee all deer would be removed from a fenced enclosure. Scaring is not a sustainable option and could potentially impact on other priority species using Leighton Moss.
Birth control is also not a viable option for use on a free-ranging wild population of deer, such as those in the Leighton Moss area. This would not address the need to reduce the current population of deer at Leighton Moss and hence not reduce the current damage to habitats on the reserve.
Red deer are one of the most popular species for visitors to see at Leighton Moss and that will remain the case following the deer management. We will maintain a population of red deer at Leighton Moss, providing enjoyment for visitors to watch them, whilst striking a balance to ensure we can also enhance the reserve’s important habitats.  We take our responsibility to protect vulnerable habitats and wildlife very seriously and would not be undertaking this action if it would have a detrimental impact on local populations of wildlife.
We appreciate that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and to voice their concerns, but we hope this explains the need to take this course of action.

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