The importance of population balance
Predators and their prey have been living side by side with each other for millennia. Predators eat their prey, which compensate by creating enough offspring to allow the next generation to continue.
So what happens when the predators disappear?
Well, this is exactly what has happened in the UK. All of our large ‘mega-carnivores’ are now extinct. We once had wild lynx, wolves and even bears roaming the landscapes here! Whilst the predators are gone, their prey species remain. These include deer, rabbits and hares. In addition, the mesopredators, such as foxes, corvids and mustelids, now free from competition themselves, will continue to expand their numbers until they have depleted their prey species.
With nothing to keep population numbers in check, increase in numbers of the mesopredators and prey species can result in devastating consequences. For example, deer such as roe and muntjac, left to their own devices, quickly multiply, eating and eradicating ground vegetation and saplings. They frequently turn to the bark on trees, often killing them. In very little time, this can create an ecological ‘desert’, where all the animals that used the ground cover vegetation (rodents, small predators such as weasels and stoats, ground nesting birds etc) must move on or die. Eventually the deer, having used all their food up, starve to death in what is known as a ‘population crash’.
This is why all leading conservation bodies advocate the careful culling of certain animal species when their numbers go unchecked. This includes deer (in particular the introduced muntjac), rabbits, crows and other corvids, and mesopredators such as foxes and mustelids. In fact, recent studies have shown that deer are now at double the population density that is sustainable for our countryside, causing widespread declines in species such as nightingales and other woodland birds. At Claxton, rather than shy away from these issues, we take a responsible attitude towards culling. Sick, old or injured deer such as muntjac and Chinese water deer are culled. If a large number of species are starting to show a decline (for example, songbird nests being raided at unsustainable rates by corvids) then we seek to reduce the population of the responsible predator or species using legal control methods.