Hatfield Forest deer to get a high-tech counting

PUBLISHED: 11:36 20 November 2009 | UPDATED: 07:28 30 May 2010

HATFIELD Forest s medieval deer populations will next week be counted using a range of methods including thermal imaging cameras. The results of the census will help inform the best management of the ancient hunting forest. The annual deer census at Hatf

HATFIELD Forest's medieval deer populations will next week be counted using a range of methods including thermal imaging cameras.

The results of the census will help inform the best management of the ancient hunting forest.

The annual deer census at Hatfield Forest is a vital part of the yearly cycle of managing the 1000 acre forest for people and wildlife and for the last five years has employed some interesting and high-tech methods to get the most accurate count possible.

Lynda Bourchier, who heads up the census, explains: "We use three methods together to get an accurate idea of how many fallow and muntjac deer there are here. The first is a fairly crude method, called a Faecal Pellet Transect.

"It's pretty self-explanatory, but we walk a set route through the forest counting the deer poo of each species. The second method is called an Ivy Trial and relies on the fact that ivy is a favourite treat of deer.

"We put bunches of it out in the forest, low down for fallow deer and high up for the muntjac, and then return to see how quickly it's been nibbled. The quicker it disappears, the more deer there are! And the third tool we use is thermal imaging.

"We use the thermal imaging cameras after dark to detect body heat in the undergrowth. They're amazingly sensitive, picking up practically everything that's alive and it's always quite exciting to see stuff revealed in the dark."

Over the years the team at Hatfield have noticed a slow but steady decline in deer numbers, which is a very good thing for the health of both the forest and the deer.

Head warden Henry Bexley said: "Numbers have been coming down a bit as a result of good management following the annual census, but last year we counted around 220 of both fallow and muntjac deer which is still way over the best numbers.

"The fallow population should be nearer 150 and muntjac zero, so monitoring of populations like this is really important to making sure we're doing the right things."

Hatfield Forest is an ancient medieval hunting forest, so in its 1000 year history managing the deer numbers has been an important part of the Forest's story.

Left unchecked, deer numbers can rocket leading to damage to fragile and beautiful habitats, a weak and sickly deer population and even risk of increased car accidents as deer spill out of the Forest and over the surrounding roads.

Good management means reducing the numbers to a level that means all the plants and animals found at Hatfield can flourish and people can go on enjoying this special place into the future.

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