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Rum research reveals important deer management lessons

08-06-2015

A summary of decades of research findings on red deer on one of Scotland's special national nature reserves (NNRs) has been published today to help deer managers.

The study on the Isle of Rum is the world’s longest running research study of a deer population. Since 1972, every individual living in one area of the island has been monitored by a research team, first from Cambridge and nowadays from Edinburgh University.

The new booklet summarises this internationally-acclaimed research, and explains many findings that are relevant to effective deer management.

Red deer research on the Isle of Rum NNR: management implications, by Professors Josephine Pemberton and Loeske Kruuk of the University of Edinburgh, was unveiled today by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) at the Deer Management Round Table meeting in Battleby.

Professor Josephine Pemberton, one of the report authors, commented:

“The differences between stags and hinds in their responses to variation in weather and density conditions are truly fascinating. Juvenile stags, in particular, are very sensitive to poor conditions, and this has major implications for managing deer populations.”

Some of the other key findings include:

- Reducing deer density, especially hind density, increases calving rates, as well as the proportion of stag calves born, the survival rates of calves and yearlings, and antler size. Simple models show stag numbers are at their highest when hinds are culled at a rate of 10 to 20 percent.

- The warming climate is causing deer to breed earlier each year – by 12 days since 1980.

- Weather effects mean that hind and stag numbers can change unpredictably from year to year, so regular counting and a responsive culling regime is crucial.

Welcoming the new guidance, Robbie Kernahan, SNH wildlife operations manager, said:

“It’s great to see all of this work being pulled together. I would encourage all deer managers to make some time and reflect on this fascinating research. Although conditions vary across the country, the information that has been gathered from the work on Rum can and should help us manage deer more effectively in Scotland.”

The publication arose from a joint visit last year to Rum NNR by SNH Chairman Ian Ross and recently retired Director of Forestry and Environment in the Scottish Government, Dr Bob McIntosh. They were so inspired by the research being carried out, which is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, that they commissioned the booklet.

Rum is also home to an up-and-coming community, which has recently taken ownership of the village by establishing a community trust. The community and SNH are working together to benefit the community by managing the island and its deer.

To download the booklet, see www.snh.gov.uk/publications-data-and-research/publications/search-the-catalogue/publication-detail/?id=2246 . Copies are also available from the SNH Battleby office.

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