Understanding deer damage is crucial when planting new forests - Forest Research

Red deer © Crown copyright Forestry Commission

Scientists at the University of Southampton and Forest Research say understanding the risk of damage by deer to new and existing forests in Britain is crucial when considering their expansion.

The researchers analysed data from over 15,000 National Forest Inventory survey plots across Britain and, among other findings, showed the level of destruction deer cause isn’t solely down to the concentration of their numbers in a given area. They concluded damage is also driven by a range of other important factors, such as climate, tree type and density, roads and, crucially, the amount of forest in the surrounding landscape.

The study is part of SCALEFORES, a €1.5m project funded by the European Research Council (ERC), and detailed findings are published in the Journal of Applied Ecology. Ambitious targets for planting new woodland have been set in the UK. The Government has committed to planting up to 30,000 hectares of trees per year, across the UK, by 2025.1 Wild deer pose a significant threat to forests. They strip the leaves, shoots and bark of trees, decimate plant communities in the undergrowth, and prevent natural regeneration of trees.

Lead author, Dr Rebecca Spake, Research Fellow in Applied Biogeography at the University of Southampton, comments: “As we make plans to expand our forests in Britain, it becomes increasingly important to understand what drives damage by deer populations. New woodland needs protection from deer, but creating woodlands could also have knock-on effects on deer damage in another.

Access the paper: Spake, R., Bellamy, C., Gill, R., Watts, K., Wilson, T, Ditchburn, B. & Eigenbrod, F. (2020) Forest damage by deer depends on cross‐scale interactions between climate, deer density and landscape structure. Journal of Applied Ecology . DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13622 (open access)

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Posted On: 28/04/2020

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