Scotland is often viewed as a haven for wildlife. We have the iconic native species we can see all year round in the wide open spaces of the countryside. However within Scotland’s central belt there are established groups of wildlife right at home next to dual carriageways, housing estates and shopping areas. Many of the outlying areas our towns and cities have pockets of land often overlooked as dead space. Housing estates look out onto expanses of rough ground, busy road networks are flanked by anonymous grassy bankings and larger areas left behind by post industrial decline provide an assorted environment. There are very few scenic landscapes and some areas are littered with rubbish from fly tipping so it is understandable to have little or no expectation of seeing wildlife. If you look closer though, you will see the urban landscape offers a different sort of haven for wildlife.
If you live and work in the countryside you are used to seeing roe deer in rural settings: on farmland, on the edge of woodland and in clearings. They are frequently spotted at a distance and easily disturbed, the slightest sound sends them bounding off over the horizon. It is hard to picture this timid animal thriving in an urban environment, living in close confines to cities, public amenities, road networks and industry but they do. The roe deer are thriving because they have successfully adapted and established themselves in patches of urban habitat.
Early one freezing January morning I travelled over to Glasgow from Fife to see some urban roe deer. I met up with David Quarrell of the South Lanarkshire Deer Group (SLDG). David has been a deer stalker for more than 35 years and has stalked many species of deer but his specific area of interest is the roe deer. The SLDG was formed in 2010; they have 22 members within the group and manage deer legally and in season.
We were driving in David’s car for less than 10 minutes when we see a small group of deer in some rough ground next to the Forte shopping centre at Easterhouse. The deer blend in very well with the rough, scrubby landscape as their coats provide excellent camouflage. We stop on the roadside to observe the group. I am intrigued to see them looking very relaxed despite the considerable activity going on around them. David said: “The urban deer have adapted and are very observant. I have seen them move into a small area of cover so they can watch dog walkers passing within yards.”
We park up and walk to a high point overlooking an expanse of rough ground with the foreboding outline of the Gartloch Hospital in the distance. In front of us are a group of 7 deer browsing. Looking out towards the housing on our left there is a group of 4 deer and across to the right in a clearing by some silver birch trees at the back of more housing there are three deer.
It is surprising to see so many deer in such a small area, you would struggle to look over a countryside landscape and see as many as 14 roe deer without having to move around. I assumed the urban environments would produce small, underweight deer, stressed by the constant activity surrounding them but I could not be more wrong as the deer are less timid than their rural counterparts, tolerant of one another and healthy looking with a good body size. David said: “Urban deer are normally big and fit as they have access to good quality feeding. In many cases a doe will produce triplets. The temperature level in the city areas is a few degrees warmer and therefore has less effect of bringing down the deer body condition.”
More deer are being seen closer to housing and changing people’s perceptions about them. In some urban areas close to housing the residents are becoming very used to the presence of deer. David said: “Local people can feel very protective towards the deer and love to see them on a regular basis. They can also become attached to the deer and may take issue with deer stalkers managing the population, in some cases they consider you are killing something akin to being their pet.”
Stalking deer in an urban environment presents different challenges from a countryside outing. Safely and planning are paramount but there are other factors requiring careful consideration, like clothing and equipment. What you wear needs careful thought as camouflage and carrying a rifle could, understandably, alarm local residents if you are stalking near to their home or having to walk through a built up area. Plain clothing in muted colours, minimal equipment and a roe deer bag for discreetly carrying the carcass are essential for keeping a low profile.
An abundant deer population can cause a number of issues especially around roads. Over the last twenty to thirty years there has been a rise in deer-vehicle collisions due to the increase in the volume of traffic and the number of deer.
Jamie Hammond, Wildlife Management Officer, Scottish Natural Heritage, said: “A change in habitat, woodland creation and behavioural adaptation has lead to the increased presence and interaction between people and Deer in and around our towns and cities. This results in both benefits by way of increased biodiversity and opportunity to see large mammals on our doorsteps, but also problems associated with risks to public safety through deer vehicle collisions, damage to woodland and agricultural interests and to private property such as gardens. There are also increased threats to deer welfare through poaching and anti social behaviour.”
Having stalkers actively managing deer provides a number of benefits including a positive impact on wildlife crime. David tells me most of the poaching taking place in the local area is usually done by opportunists with dogs. If numbers are managed the deer are less prolific therefore reducing the opportunity to poach.
Local stalkers have an unrivalled knowledge of the land and its inhabitants. They also spend less hours traveling to the ground producing less carbon miles. Ultimately, they ensure a healthy strong deer population for everyone to enjoy.