Tuesday, July 11, 2006

GREATER LONDON AREA, UK NEWS: Muntjac problems continue

MUNTJAC deer are destroying young trees in a Welwyn Garden City wood and may have to be culled if their numbers continue to rise.

The deer, along with grey squirrels, are named as woodland vandals in a report by Welwyn Hatfield Council into the state of Sherrardspark Wood and Northaw Great Wood because they destroy young and coppiced trees. The report says both animals are present in high numbers, as are rhododendron bushes, and that action needs to be taken to prevent the decline of native species in the wood.

The council is planning to remove a large number of the rhododendrons, not a native UK species, and protestors have put up signs in Sherrardspark Wood urging the council to let the bushes stay.

But Councillor Alan Franey, executive member for environment, explained that the council was under obligation to abide by rules set by the Government's wildlife watchdog, English Nature, because the wood had been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

In a letter to the Review he said: "English Nature advises local authorities of actions that must take place to ensure these important habitats are protected. Rhododendrons, whilst obviously very attractive when in flower, are not a natural species of such woods."

The council's landscapes officer Chris James said the situation could become very serious if left unchecked. She said: "The rhododendrons are slowly but surely increasing. We don't want the situation they've got in Wales and Cornwall where whole valleys are being taken up with them and they are losing all their native vegetation underneath.

"What we want is a nice mixed oak and hornbeam woodland, not a rhododendron monoculture."

The council is proposing to leave some rhododendrons in the middle of the wood so that visitors can still enjoy them.

Pressed as to the possible fate of the muntjacs and grey squirrels, Mrs James said no decision had yet been made. She said: "There is no actual policy at the moment but we have obviously got the problem in mind so it is inevitable that we will have to consider it.

"I think in Sherrardspark Wood it would be extremely difficult to cull deer as the wood is very highly visited, but at the same time if there are too many deer and English Nature want us to address it then we will have to.

"I'm not an expert marksman so I'm not sure exactly what we could do."

Mrs James said the muntjac's favourite food was bramble shoots, but that they often ate the shoots of young trees and trees which were re-growing after being coppiced.

The muntjac, a small deer about 90cm long, is native to China and Taiwan but was introduced to parks in Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire about 100 years ago and is now a common sight in woodland in the South East.

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