By Colin McClean, Wildlife Manager
Friday 24th Feb was deer count day on Glen Tanar. Storm Doris had been predicted to bring snow to the hills but forecast snow doesn’t always appear. However on this occasion Doris delivered, with four inches of snow at low levels and the hills properly plastered with white.
Good snow cover is the essential ingredient for an accurate deer count as nothing gathers the deer off the high tops like a snow storm. Snow is known as the White Shepherd because of its ability to gather animals and, from a deer counting perspective, this means almost 100% of the deer can be found on about 10% of the ground. This makes counting much more efficient and accurate. Deer are also much more restricted in how far they can move and this reduces possible counting errors through deer being counted on one estate and then moving onto another estate where they might be counted again.
On Friday all the estates across the East Grampians joined forces in a co-ordinated effort. The East Grampians covers all the hills from Braemar, east to Clachnaben, south to Kirriemuir and west to Glenshee, an area which is home to several thousand red deer. On Glen Tanar many of our hill red deer took shelter from the storm in areas of woodland. Most of the famous Glen Tanar forest is fenced to exclude deer, although some deer inevitably break in and make the woodlands their home. This fence is set back from the forest edge for some of its length which allows the forest to expand out onto open moorland. Shorter sections of the fence run through the forest which means some areas of woodland are accessible to hill deer. These areas of woodland provide shelter for deer during wild weather like Doris. Deer counters have to gently drive deer from these areas of woodland so that we can count them on open ground at the forest edge.
Our first target as a count team of five stalkers and one press ganged, but very helpful forest worker, was an area of woodland near Ballater. This is a traditional wintering area for stags from Glen Tanar and Glen Muick. In ancient times these deer would have wintered along the Dee, but agriculture and settlement have restricted the deer range over time. Now they shelter in a Scot’s pine plantation but, with the weather sunny and actually winter-warm, they soon emerged in long trotting strings of animals to settle in the pure white corrie of Corn Arn. We followed them at a slightly more sedate pace and counted them easily as they spread across a white back ground below the rocks of Headinch. Its very satisfying when a deer count goes to plan. After successfully driving two more areas of woodlands we then started to search the main glens of Gairney and Tanar and we completed the count by trekking out to Mount Keen, where two hundred hardy red deer hinds (females) and calves were settled in a sheltered corrie. A few loud whistles made them stand up and they were easily counted. Job done. We can now use the figures to set population targets across a wide area.