The growth, reproduction and mortality of an enclosed population of red deer (Cervus elaphus) in north-west England

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Abstract

This paper considers the growth, reproduction and mortality of enclosed (400 years) red deer, Cervus elaphus L. (n= 250–300), in Lyme Park, Cheshire, England. The Park consists of woodland (116 ha), parkland (175 ha) and moorland (244 ha) habitats. It was privately owned until 1946. Culling to control deer numbers was first done in 1975, and these results cover the period 1975–83.

Stags and hinds were locally abundant. Densities of hinds varied from 30 km−2 in the park to 77 km−2 on the moor. Three bachelor herds of stags were present but overall the population was dominated by hinds (sex ratio > 3:1). Performance was generally unexceptional for this species in Britain. Growth rates of stags and hinds were especially poor on the moor (to 400 m). Calf to hind ratios were generally low (range 0-20-0-34) but maxima (0.55–0.60) were recorded in woodland sites.

Conditions on the moor were severe during the winter due to the poor quality of herbage (Molinia dominated) and a lack of shelter. Calf mortality (1975–83) varied (10–30%) but was particularly high during the cold winters of 1978–79 and 1981–82. Population density and winter food were probably the two principal factors limiting the performance of deer on the moor. By contrast, growth rates of stags and hinds in the park were high. However, calf to hind ratios were surprisingly low (0.15–0.26). No explanation of this anomally was apparent but the effects of ‘stress’ cannot be ruled out. Parkland stags dominated the rut throughout the whole Park because of their superior size and status. Stags from the moor appeared to play no part in the rut.

Culling has reduced levels of natural mortality but further improvements in performance are unlikely to be achieved without a reduction in sheep stocks, some improvement in habitat and the provision of shelter. There may, however, be some merit in retaining a high population density in Lyme Park for conservation reasons. Parks provide unique opportunities for studying the behaviour and ecology of red deer. The effects of competition, parental investment and management can be studied without the inconvenience of immigration or emigration. The problems of managing small populations of deer are briefly discussed.

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