Deer fenced off from royal hunting ground, Garston Wood, to protect nightingales

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Garston Wood deer

William the Conqueror hunted in Garston Wood. It’s a royal hunting ground. The world has changed and the nightingale population has fallen by 90% since the 1960s and the reason is that deer are destroying the nightingale’s habitat.

Garston Wood deer. Photo: The Woodland Trust

Accordingly, it has been decided that the wood should be fenced off to stop deer getting into it. It is owned by the RSPB who apparently can afford a long fence (the wood covers 80 acres). Not every landowner can afford to erect a deer fence. A neighbouring landowner, Tim Palmer, of West Woodyates Manor F, prefers a coordinated cull.

“The RSPB have solved their problem by putting up an extremely expensive fence, which makes it look like Stalug Luft III. It has pushed the deer onto my ground and we have a hell of a game dealing with the deer.

Tim Palmer

In the past they shot deer to reduce their numbers. But despite these efforts the sound of the nightingale has faded over the years. The RSPB decided to push the deer onto surrounding farmland.

Location of Garston Wood
Location of Garston Wood

Chris Packham, the BBC naturalist, has openly backed selective culling of deer based upon studies which show that they are overgrazing the dense woodland understorey which is required by this songbird.

Culling has reduced the population of fallow deer in Garston Wood from 120 in 2011 to 25 today. However, this has not stopped the loss of the nightingales.

“These woodlands are so precious and controlling deer by culling them is like trying to keep the tide out. Nightingales need dense low understorey scrub and that doesn’t happen with deer.”

Jan Robinson a part-time deer manager of the wood.

Garston Wood has been a managed coppice for centuries. Deer have overgrazed the fresh shoots of coppiced hazel and have broken the 12 year cycle of regrowth upon which the nightingale as well as the dormouse depend.

My thanks to The Times newspaper.