My name is Owain Barton – I am a PhD student at Bangor University. The project I am working on focuses on the fallow deer population in the Elwy Valley region of North Wales.
Deer are among the most treasured and charismatic wildlife species in Britain. They are deeply rooted in our national history as our largest native mammal, a valuable source of game meat and a symbol of untamed countryside. However, deer numbers have expanded greatly in the past few decades to a point where populations are now placing an unsustainable level of pressure on sensitive habitats.
Native broadleaved woodlands are particularly vulnerable to browsing by deer. Their foraging can have a devastating impact on the natural regeneration of woodlands, as well as affecting important interactions between plant species and the network of microbial, fungal and animal species, which rely on them for food and shelter. In order to overcome the significant challenges of climate change, we must not only expand the coverage of woodlands in Britain but also manage and protect our existing woodlands as diligently as possible. Deer management is, therefore, an integral part of responsible and sustainable woodland management and to be effective, it must be coordinated at the same landscape-scale as the local population (i.e., across an entire region and not only at individual sites).
My project utilises an array of motion-activated camera traps to monitor the deer population in the Elwy Valley, to better understand landscape-scale patterns of woodland-use and how their behaviour changes across the year. I will use the data from these cameras in statistical analyses to (i) estimate the importance of different landscape features in determining habitat connectivity, (ii) assess what environmental and human factors influence the frequency of woodland-use and (iii) investigate how daily patterns of deer activity vary seasonally and in relation to population management.
This information will form part of a robust collection of evidence and used as a basis for informing decisions about population and woodland management in the Elwy Valley and beyond. Bron Haul has been a key site for my project and its custodians, David and Ruth, have been a driving force behind much of the deer-related work in the area. Their sense of responsibility as stewards of our natural environment and their holistic approach to managing their woodland provides a fine example for other woodland owners and managers to follow.
This research is funded by a KESS 2 scholarship (http://kess2.ac.uk/) and is being conducted at Bangor University in collaboration with the Deer Initiative Partnership (https://www.thedeerinitiative.co.uk/) and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT, https://www.gwct.org.uk/wales).