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Sika deer: Friend or foe?

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Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 18:14 UK time, Thursday, 14 October 2010

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?


  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    There is a small heard of sika deer hiding within gisburn forest in the forest of bowland lancashire and as of yet there are no concerns that they are damaging the enviroment as with most wildlife that has found its way onto our island from foreign parts by collectorsthere will always be conflict and people for and against the foreign species, to me i think they have now earned there place here and love seeing the very shy deer rutting and hearing the unusual creepy call from the sikas stag always sends a shiver down my spine, to read my tale on the gisburn sika click the link.
    cheers all chris

    SIKA DEER: http://www.bbc.co.uk/lancashire/content/articles/2009/02/18/your_stories_sika_deer_feature.shtml

  • Comment number 3.

    My two Springer Spaniels are loving the Sika Deer. The calling is sending them wild!!! Real dogovision. Watching from mid-west Germany. We have two pairs of Nightingales singing to us every Spring & through the Summer- all night, they are truely wonderful. Love the programme, Sam (Rosie & Bilbo, the Spaniels)

  • Comment number 4.

    Beautiful animals, great to watch or photograph at any time of year. We have quite a large number on the Isle of Purbeck, they are culled every now and again but they should be here to stay. We can't get rid of every species that we have introduced.
    I love 'em

  • Comment number 5.

    i welcome the Sika deer, they are not doing anymore damage than a fallow deer, in my opinion :)

  • Comment number 6.

    I would say not welcome, because:
    1) They pollute the gene pool of our native Red Deer.
    2) They do not fill a biological niche that is left by the absence of some other species.
    3) They cause harm to our native trees.

    Yes, they are pretty though.

  • Comment number 7.

    i live on exmoor, on the programme they said that all the red deer were crossed with sika , this cannot be the case because we have no sika deer here on exmoor , we have red deer , roe deer and fallow deer and they do not seem to mix

  • Comment number 8.

    I think not because they will end up taking over our native deer ie: red deer roe deer and fallow just like the grey squirrel has done to our beautiful red squirrel. Although they are quite beautiful.

  • Comment number 9.

    I dont think that they should be here as they are not native. This means that the trees and plants that they damage have not adapted to thier attacks. Furthermore as we have no predators any more we cant afford to have another species of deer, as the red and roe deer populations are already out of control. Incidently if Sharonsafc reads this board again, fallow deer are not native, but were bought over by the normans. That does mean that htey have been here a long time, but also do many native plants damage.

  • Comment number 10.

    As the ice retreated after the last ice age one species of deer from the genus Cervus spread out across the northern hemisphere. As sea levels rose these were isolated into 3 major populations or 'races' - north american, european and far-eastern. These 'races' have gone their own way and have evolved their own physical and behavioural characteristics, - principally male antlers, with the north american having the largest and the far eastern the smallest. We humans saw these differences as significant and categorised them as different species, Cervus canadensis, Cervus elaphrus and Cervus nippon.

    Unfortunately when we did this we forgot to ask the deer what they think and it turns out that they aren't too bothered about male antler size and don't see themselves as being three different species at all. They see themselves as being one big happy gene pool and will cheerfully mate with one another within that pool if given the opportunity which is what we have provided them with. So talk about 'gene dilution' is somewhat illusory. It's gene pool homogenisation. Some of the homogenisation has been deliberate - red deer (Cervus elaphrus) have been crossed with wapiti (Cervus canadensis) to improve antler size for trophy hunters since the 19th century. I understand that the 'protected' red deer gene pool on Rum has actually got a good dose of 'African' red deer genes as a result of attempts to 'improve' the stock.


    I don't suppose the resulting progeny of these various wapiti/sika/red deerr crosses are too unhappy with the outcome! It is an identical situation to mixed-race marriage in humans. It is not equivalent to humans mating with chimpanzees.

    I happen to think wapiti x red deer crosses are quite spectacular. I can't say the same for sika x red deer crosses or indeed for 'pure-bred' sika deer. This is pure racial prejudice on my part.

  • Comment number 11.

    Thank you Thank you! and more posts on this topic will be in the future? It is waiting! Here we are Russian! Unfortunately I did not have big problems with English.

  • Comment number 12.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 13.

    Can't blame the deer for our lack of foresight in bringing them over. Besides, eco systems change all the time. Its progress - is a Darwinian sort of way.


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