COUNTRY & GARDEN: Nature Notes

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The Independent Culture
THE FOLLY of introducing exotic species is perfectly illustrated by the saga of Sika deer. Natives of Japan and other Far Eastern countries, they were first imported into Ireland in 1860 by Viscount Powerscourt, who had a passion for moving animals around. He then started a colony on Brownsea Island, in Poole Harbour, from which they promptly swam ashore and established themselves on the main land - with a result that large areas of Dorset are now overrun by them.

Introduction to Scotland gave the deer foot-holes north of the Border, and in spite of intensive culling, the Scottish population is now thought to be 18,000, and rising. Sika are highly destr-uctive, being bark-strippers second to none, but their readiness to breed with the native red deer is even more worrying to ecologists.

At one stage it was thought that hybrids would be barren, but it is now clear that they continue to breed, and the Deer Commission fear that they will soon threaten the genetic integrity of all the red deer in Scotland.

Sika are about the same size as fallow deer, though darker in colour. Mature males have black facial markings, which give them an angry appearance. Their most striking characteristic is the loud, long whistle with which stags challenge each other during the autumn rut, which sounds as if it were coming from the lips, but in fact it emanates from a valve in the throat.