Wildlife Column with Prof Ian Rotherham
After the excitement the autumn rut, the wintertime is a period of relative quiet for the Peak District’s red deer.
In some years if the weather turns bad then this may be a time of survival, or not, if animals are pushed to the point of starvation. The latter is something familiar to those who watch deer in the Scottish Highlands for example. This year with mild weather, the animals are well fed and looking to be in good condition. Stags are still with their hinds but now in smaller groups, and still ever alert.
As soon as you stray from the main footpath or stop and pay attention to them, then the deer look up and the dominant stag becomes more watchful and protective. These glorious animals evolved in countryside with wolf packs and lynx and so vigilance was important to survival.
Of course, our ancestors also hunted the deer and that too has bequeathed a legacy of prudent caution.
Sadly, the motorcar is a relatively new risk for the wild deer and they have yet to develop or evolve and effective stratagem to deal with that hazard.
Indeed, few large mammals have so far worked out the often-daily risk of road traffic. Only this week I spotted what will be the first of many roadside badger kills.
On the Dronfield Bypass near Chesterfield, there is now an annual slaughter of adult badgers from late winter and into spring as adults emerge from their setts and begin to explore the wider area.
This was my first casualty of 2020 and was a very large, adult male. Aside from government-sponsored shooters, the motorcar is now the main ‘predator’ of the badger. A further complication is the fact that road-kill carcasses then draw down scavengers to clear up the mess. Whilst carrion crows and magpies are generally reasonably canny when it comes to avoiding becoming victims too, that is not always the case.
My wife witnessed a magpie come to grief on this same fast stretch of road. Several birds scattered but one was too slow.