Bambi in the Back Garden: Deer Are the New Urban Invaders ; the Following the Trail of Foxes, Species Such as Roe Deer and Muntjac Are Appearing in Britain's Greener Towns and Cities. Michael McCarthy Explains Why Animals Are on the Hoof and the Problems They Might Bring
McCarthy, Michael, The Independent (London, England)
First was foxes, then it was squirrels. Now it is the turn of deer to start invading Britain's towns and cities.
From London to Glasgow, from Southampton to Sheffield, nimble beasts with hooves and horns are surreptitiously living and breeding in the suburbs in steadily increasing numbers, and sometimes even venturing all the way in to city centres.
To many people, the latest urban wildlife phenomenon is a delight: an authentic Bambi in the back garden.
However, some less sentimental souls consider the latest addition to the urban population a pest, capable of seriously damaging gardens, allotments and public green spaces, and even as a real danger in terms of their potential for causing road accidents, which is considerable. Although their numbers are rising constantly, as yet no one has any idea of what - if anything - to do about them.
Wild deer are the most remarkable of the growing list of creatures that have begun to penetrate our cities and towns. The appearance of proper wild animals - as opposed to the feral pigeons and (once!) sparrows, the rats and mice that have always been with us - began about 30 years ago.
In early 1975, for example, a young dog fox was killed on a road half a mile from London's Waterloo station. That was considered such an unusual event at that time that London's Evening Standard, put the news story on its front page. Nowadays, a fox in central London is hardly news at all, unless such an animal strolls right past the front door of 10 Downing Street - as occasionally happens. Foxes are now fully urbanised across Britain and grey squirrels are not far behind, having also flourished in the suburbs - where even badgers are seen more and more. The reasons are complex but may be to do with the decline in game-keeping in the countryside as shooting estates shrink, letting animal populations climb, and also with the rise of the throwaway society that provides a ready food source in pizza crusts and burger remains.
Once-uncommon birds have followed the animals into town. In the 1970s, the magpie suddenly became a suburban bird, and, in the 1990s, its example was followed by the sparrowhawk, which has also moved in among the bricks and mortar. Central London even has peregrine falcons, which breed on the towering chimneys of Battersea Power Station.
But there is no doubt that wild deer are the most unexpected new arrivals yet. Two species in particular have started to establish themselves in Britain's built-up areas: the muntjac and the roe.
The muntjac has taken the lead. Introduced from China a century ago, it has flourished. As Britain's smallest deer, no bigger than a medium- sized dog, it needs only a modest home range, so it can comfortably live in the shrubbery of a suburban garden, unsuspected by the householder until one day all the roses are eaten. Muntjacs will thrive in the sort of scruffy habitats such as overgrown railway cuttings which foxes first used to establish themselves as urban animals in Britain 30 years ago.
Roe deer, another small species, are also finding their way into the outskirts and even the centres of conurbations in a similar way, although in smaller numbers. "Where there are stable habitats in built-up areas, we are increasingly seeing deer in them," said Tony Mitchell-Jones of English Nature, the Government's wildlife conservation agency, and one of Britain's leading mammal experts. "Quite a few people phone up every year complaining about muntjac eating the petals off their roses. They're spreading everywhere."
"Deer are certainly regularly seen now actually in the middle of big cities," said Hugh Rose, technical officer of the British Deer Society. "Cambridge has deer right in its centre, and in north London it's remarkable how far deer come in: they're all round the North Circular Road, in areas like Golders Green."
Although no one has yet carried out a full scientific survey, the anecdotal evidence of urban deer in Britain is starting to pile up: more and more people are listing surprising sightings.
Guy Hagg, a deer enthusiast who helps to run the Deer-UK website, reports in an account on the site that "Sheffield, Leeds, Southampton, Northampton, Oxford and London are all experiencing deer colonising not only the fringe but moving into the heart of the inner-city areas".
Citing evidence from Dr Ian Rotherham, an urban wildlife expert from of Sheffield Hallam University, he says: "There is evidence from Sheffield that red deer have found their way into the heart of the city, utilising the river Don as a means to reach the centre.
"Whether this was by design or accident is yet unclear but red deer have been found in the city, confused and disorientated by the surroundings."
He adds that roe deer have been seen feeding on a cleared industrial area, in daylight, in the middle of Leeds, and that golf courses in Southampton "are home to a number of deer that are then utilising the green corridors to reach other parts of the city centre".
The London Wildlife Trust this year published its own account of urban deer and the problems they might cause. It said: "There are regular sightings in the woods of Havering, Hillingdon, Bromley and Waltham Forest. There have even been reports of deer at Sydenham Hill Wood in Southwark and Tooting Bec Common in Wandsworth."
In Glasgow, police are concerned that roe deer, now in parks and golf courses on the fringes of the city and along the M74 motorway are being hunted by gangs of poachers.
Two factors appear to be responsible for the rise of the urban deer. The first is the significant rise in the populations of all deer species (muntjac especially) across Britain in recent decades, probably caused in part by milder winters, which mean more animals surviving all year round, and more food for them, so that they breed more successfully. High numbers in turn means more pressure among individual deer for territories, and some are being forced inwards from the country into the suburbs.
The second factor is the increasing greening of much urban landscape: new roads now invariably have trees and shrubs planted alongside them, and derelict industrial areas are often turned into public greenery. They become corridors through which deer move.
Although urban deer are not yet on anybody's agenda as a difficulty, the Government believes the rise in deer populations nationally is indeed a problem in the making.
In some cases, numbers are simply getting far too high for the capacity of the environment to carry them, and crop fields and woodlands - including valuable conservation sites - can be seriously damaged.
One naturalist recently referred to Monk's Wood, long a famous wildlife site near Huntingdon, whose lower vegetation has now largely been eaten away by deer, as "a muntjac slum".
The problem of deer and road accidents is also considered serious: deer are implicated in around 14 or 15 human fatalities on UK roads every year, the Government says.
Officials from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs are now carrying out a major review of deer management in England, and considering whether the numbers culled annually by shooting should not be substantially increased.
Fox (Vulpes vulpes)
The original coloniser and the one that has penetrated farthest into town. Now breeding in parks and gardens in the centre of many British towns and cities. Bloodcurdling cries in the night like a baby in distress.
Hardy and rapidly reproducing, it is now numerous in many English urban parks and gardens where there are no longer sightings of the red squirrel, the smaller and prettier rival species it has displaced. Can be a serious pest when it gets into roof spaces to nest.
Present in the suburbs more often than you might think. Kew Gardens in south-west London has a thriving badger colony and the animals are sometimes seen on local suburban roads.
Started colonising the suburbs of British towns and cities, and then the inner cities, about 30 years ago. Demonised as a killer of songbirds by many bird-lovers - unfairly, say scientists.
Peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus)
The ultimate piece of urban wildlife. Nesting on power-station chimneys, these majestic birds can be seen overhead in the heart of central London as they hunt for pigeons.
There is no doubt that this is a songbird killer, for it lives on nothing else. But the male - and much larger female - are so magnificent to see that many garden birdwatchers welcome their new suburban presence.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Bambi in the Back Garden: Deer Are the New Urban Invaders ; the Following the Trail of Foxes, Species Such as Roe Deer and Muntjac Are Appearing in Britain's Greener Towns and Cities. Michael McCarthy Explains Why Animals Are on the Hoof and the Problems They Might Bring. Contributors: McCarthy, Michael - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: August 16, 2004. Page number: 12,13. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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