Suffolk: Deer management could be needed in battle with ash dieback disease

DEER may need to be culled in East Anglia to stop them from hampering efforts to regenerate trees threatened by chalara ash dieback disease, the EADT can reveal.

Speaking ahead of a Forestry Commission conference in Suffolk yesterday, experts claimed the area’s big deer population would forage on tree seedlings – preventing the regeneration of ash that could be resistant to the toxic fungus.

Wildlife charities said they would back any humane cull that was implemented to protect “woodland structure” and the habitats of other creatures.

Emma Goldberg, forestry and woodland specialist for Natural England, yesterday described the management of deer as a “major issue” in any attempt to diversify or regenerate tree species in the wake of ash dieback.

Ms Goldberg, who spoke about the management of native and ancient woodland to the conference’s 200 participants, explained: “If you take a longer view of 100 years, we may be looking at losing the majority of ash trees across that time period.

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“But we can maintain the diversity of the ground flora of the woodlands until we develop the resistance of ash trees and can fill that gap in the canopy.”

She added: “But, and there is a major but here, we cannot do that with deer pressures being what they are.

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“One of the key factors that I want to bang home with a sledgehammer is that our deer numbers are too high.

“Deer numbers will stop the regeneration of the disease-resistance ash and they will stop the regeneration of any other tree species and that is really important.”

The woodlands specialist, who did not say how the deer should be managed, added: “We need to get on top of this problem. It is a major issue, especially in the east of England. Deer numbers are too high and we are not going to see recovery unless we get on top of them.”

The deer population in Ickworth Park, near Bury St Edmunds, where the conference was held, is currently controlled by an annual shoot. The cull, which takes place between November and February, is designed to keep herd numbers down to about 100.

Last night a spokeswoman for the RSPCA said deer management, including a cull, would be acceptable if overgrazing threatened the future of the iconic East Anglian landscape.

She said: “Some grazing by deer can help maintain plant diversity in woodlands.

“However, ‘overgrazing’ by large numbers of deer can have a negative effect on woodland structure and therefore other wildlife. In such situations culling is an accepted method of reducing the adverse impacts.”

A spokesman from the British Deer Society added: “Provided that deer are culled safely and humanely, the Society accepts that there are occasions when deer will need to be managed in accordance with local land habitat and management objectives.”

The conference, which was attended by landowners, aborealists and wildlife trust representatives affected by ash dieback, was told that there is currently no cure for ash dieback, which is spread by the fungal spores of chalara fraxinea.

Instead, the aim of chalara management was said to be about slowing the spread of the condition.

The number of cases of chalara across the east now stands at 130.

The EADT previously reported that Suffolk Wildlife Trust has a confirmed case of ash dieback at all but one of its ancient woodland sites, including the national nature reserve at Bradfield Woods, near Bury St Edmunds.

Steve Scott, area director of the Forestry Commission who organised the conference, said the event was about “communication” and claimed there was a “thirst for information” about the disease.

Sir Harry Studholme, Forestry Commissioner for England, told the conference: “Our best chance of minimising the impact is working together in an open and collaborative way and we have been doing this so far and we have been learning.

“We are learning all the time.”

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