Bad winter wipes out up to 75% of deer calves

WITH the snow receding from all but the mountain tops, estate owners are now counting the losses of their deer – and some reckon that 75 per cent of last year's crop of calves could have perished in the severe weather.

Speaking at a meeting of the Association of Deer Management Groups (ADMG) in Kingussie yesterday, Michael Wigan, of Borobol estate, Sutherland, reported massive losses, not only in the young stock, but also a couple of situations where large numbers of deer were killed.

"The big problem was that, unusually, the snow did not drift. When it is blown by the wind, the deer search out the areas where they can get down to food. This year, the snow was often uniformly deep and the only place where food was accessible was on vertical slopes, such as railway embankments.

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"We came across two parts of the railway line where deer had been feeding and had then been struck by a train. At one, there were over 100 killed and at the other 77 died," he said.

Wigan also confirmed that he reckoned to have lost three-quarters of last year's calves. "When it became very cold and the temperature went below -10C, the hinds stopped lactating and the calves were left without a sufficient source of food."

The loss of such a large proportion of the crop will have an effect both on the long and short term. There will be a break in the "recruitment" of hinds into the breeding flock, and there will also be a reduction in the numbers of stags that are available for the shooting market.

While his experience was particularly bad, he said others had also suffered considerably in their deer numbers.

The chairman of the ADMG, Robert Balfour, said it would be some time before a full reckoning of the losses could be quantified.

The problem had been worse in the north and east of the country.

Apart from the deer that had perished, Wigan said the remaining hinds were in very poor and weak condition, although he did not see a reduced calving next month.

Despite the losses, he was philosophical, saying nature had a capacity to compensate after such situations.