Herbivore Impact Assessments

Loch Lomond NNR

Last week we were able to get our boat back on the water and visit a couple of the Loch Lomond islands that we manage to conduct a couple of key springtime tasks. The first being a litter pick of the entire islands, but since we’ve touched on the issues of littering recently, let’s focus on the other issue of today – deer. Herbivore Impact Assessments (HIAs) are what they say on the tin. A way to assess the impact that deer have on the island vegetation. This was my first experience of helping with such a survey, and it was a shock to the system to say the least.

Think of Loch Lomond, and you probably picture old, wild woodland. It’s where we go to get away from it all, to immerse ourselves in and appreciate the beauty of the natural world – right? But the closer you look, the more you see just how unnatural everything really is. Whether that’s noticing that none of the trees have lower branches, that over half the bilberry bushes don’t have leaves, or that there were practically no sapling trees to be seen. The effects of overgrazing are everywhere, and once the ‘natural habitat’ goggles come off, it’s a fight to get them back on!

It’s a tricky topic too, because deer are such lovely creatures that many of us get excited to see – they contribute to tourism, and the red stag is practically our wildlife mascot, lording over the Scottish mountains. There’s no doubt that people are enchanted by their presence, and can come away from wild sightings feeling that bit closer to nature. This is, now more than ever, an invaluable connection for people to develop, and we as conservationists shouldn’t be dismissive of this just because of the damage that deer cause. But cause damage they do, and HIAs are just one method for objectively quantifying this through stats and percentages.

Over the next couple of weeks we will be carrying out further HIAs on the islands we haven’t yet visited, to gauge the status of each and the subsequent deer management that will need to be carried out to combat this. We don’t shy away from the fact that, right now, this means culling. It’s the most effective – both in terms of deer numbers and cost – method of deer management, but there are constant talks across Scotland of what other options are out there. Could re-wilding our landscape with predators remove the need for culls? Would you be excited to see lynx on the Lomond shores?

Scotland’s wildlife is amazing, and Loch Lomond days have so far always been glorious. But this was a stark reminder of the fact that our ecosystems are not truly in balance, and that we have a long way to go to rectify this.

About Bethia Pearson

Stirling NNRs
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2 Responses to Herbivore Impact Assessments

  1. Anne says:

    This is a difficult, though essential, part of looking after natural areas all over the world. Sadly, there is only so much space for relocation …


  2. Pingback: The in-between land | 2 bogs, a swamp and some islands

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