Sika deer: Friend or foe?
Sika deer were introduced into the UK in 1860, brought into deer park collections from Japan and Taiwan. There are many subspecies but the only free living form which escaped and dispersed were Japanese sika.
150 years on the majority are now found in Scotland and Ireland with small populations in south England, most notably in the New Forest. The exact size of the British population is unknown but it is thought to be in the region of tens of thousands including hybrids.
Unfortunately sika deer are one of the most damaging alien species to the environment in Europe. They are considered a pest as they browse and graze on crops and "ring" trees, stripping the bark from the base causing the tree to die. They are also thought to aid in the spread of diseases such as bovine and avian TB.
Although smaller than the native red deer, sika deer can fully hybridise with them, meaning that they can produce fertile offspring. This concerns red deer conservationists as it means a dilution of the gene pool.
If you want help recognising sika deer check out our guide to deer in the UK.
Sika deer are native to much of east Asia but their habitats have become fragmented and reduced causing them to become extinct in Vietnam and Korea. Their final native stronghold is Japan where they are considered sacred.
Have you seen any sika deer? What are your thoughts: are they welcome or not? Should the country be a refuge for their populations given that they are struggling in some of their native countries?