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17 September 2014
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Walking country - Forest of Bowland

Sika Deer c/o RSPB Images and David Kjaer

The Forest of Bowland, a huge area of moors, hills and valleys, lies in Lancashire between Lancaster, Settle and Clitheroe.

Although it is called a forest there are not many trees - the title refers to ancient hunting rights.

Sika Deer spotting at Bowland.
Photo - RSPB Images and David Kjaer

This was a royal hunting forest for deer and wild boar and is now a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Sika are the predominate deer species inhabiting Gisburn Forest near Slaidburn.

Their size varies considerably, from the typical Japanese race with a shoulder height of 65-79cm to the Sybowski sika of Manchuria and Korea which measures about 110cm.

Woodland habitat

Sika Deer c/o RSPB Images and David KjaerSika are closely related to Red Deer and can interbreed with them. In habit they keep more to woodland than red deer.

Populations which are subject to disturbance become largely nocturnal.

Most Sika in Britain are Japanese in origin and were brought first to Ireland in about 1860 to Powerscourt and thence to a variety of places in England and Scotland.

Some were released deliberately, e.g. in Kintyre, the New Forest, Dorset and Bowland.

The deer at Bowland are thought to have been Manchurian.

Others escaped from parks, especially during the two World Wars, and established feral populations

Shy and secretive

If you're watching the deer at night, listen out the tremendous sounds they make including whistles.

The male Sika has a different sound - a three-point whistle.

Sika deer are very secretive, and they like dense woodland.

Gisburn Forest was planted in 1950s, the deer soon moved in and have thrived there.

Autumn is a good time to look because - like Red Deer this is the mating and rutting season.

But they are mainly nocturnal and they tend to lie up in the woods during the day.

The time to see them is just after dawn and dusk. But even in the day, you can still see signs of them.

The Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier c/o RSPB Images and Andy HayThe forest is vast - much of it is privately owned - by the Duchy of Lancaster and the Duke of Westminster.

So until recently it was closed to the public and that has helped to protect another shy resident here - the Hen Harrier

Major efforts are being put into helping them to re-establish their breeding grounds.

Conservationists are using transmitters attach to chicks when they are about 32 days old so the signal can be picked up 60km away using a hand held aerial and receiver.

This couldn't be done until recently because the technology wasn't small enough.

The birds are very easily disturbed, so never go looking for them when they're nesting - they nest on the ground, and will fly close to the nest if they've got chicks.

That's one reason they were almost wiped out - they are also easy to shoot.

The birds will hunt anywhere around the area and you can track them yourself using binoculars and watching for them in flight with their distinctive shape and tail feathers.

One of the bird's favourite places to hunt is over the moors.

The females have expensive tastes and will eat Grouse and Pheasant, whilst the males take smaller birds and mammals.

Even though this is the most successful breeding site in the UK for Hen Harriers, seeing them is never guaranteed because they hunt over wide moorland areas, right across to the Pennines.

Photo credits

Sika Deer photos courtesy and copyright of RSPB Images and David Kjaer.

Hen Harrier courtesy of RSPB Images and Andy Hay.



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