Deer advance on Sheffield city centre amid population boom

A red deer bellowing in the Peak District (photo by Paul Biggs)
A red deer bellowing in the Peak District (photo by Paul Biggs)
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Deer are increasingly venturing into the heart of Sheffield as the population in South Yorkshire soars.

If recent sightings are anything to go by, the majestic beasts are almost as likely to be found bathed in the glow of suburban streetlights these days as they are silhouetted against a spectacular sunset on Britain's moors and woodlands.

Martin Wistow took this photo of a deer at Sheffield General Cemetery in Sharrow Vale, which the cemetery trust shared on its Twitter page

Martin Wistow took this photo of a deer at Sheffield General Cemetery in Sharrow Vale, which the cemetery trust shared on its Twitter page

They have set up residence at cemeteries in Sharrow Vale and Crookes, are firmly established around Kelham Island and have been spotted as close to the city centre as Queens Road and Granville Road.

Ian Rotherham, a professor of environmental geography at Sheffield Hallam University, has spent the last few decades tracking the growing numbers of deer in South Yorkshire and the Peak District.

He often receives reports these days of sightings in Sheffield's suburbs, and says cleaner rivers, urban landscaping and vegetation reclaiming abandoned industrial sites have all played a part in attracting them.

"When we began our survey in the 80s there basically weren't any deer in the area, other than a few in parks like Chatsworth and some feral deer which had escaped from captivity," he said.

Michael Hardy took this photo of a large red deer stag on Big Moor, close to Owler Bar

Michael Hardy took this photo of a large red deer stag on Big Moor, close to Owler Bar

"Over the last 30 years, their population has expanded tremendously. They've been moving into Sheffield from the east, north and south.

"We've seen roe deer moving in in quite big numbers and muntjacs too coming right into the urban area.

"We know they've been found in Meersbrook, Woodseats and Norton, for example. People don't often see them because they're quite small, but their bark is distinctive. It's like a wheezy smoker's cough and can be heard from half a mile away."

Mr Rotherham said most people welcomed the new visitors, but red deer - the largest land mammal in the UK - were now so common around Totley some householders there were not too happy to find their gardens raided.

Firefighters rescue a deer in Sharrow in 2015

Firefighters rescue a deer in Sharrow in 2015

Red deer have spread as far into town as Millhouses to the south and Kelham Island to the north, where the population is believed to have descended from a longstanding medieval herd at Wharncliffe which was released into the wild during the Second World War and wandered down the Don valley.

Mr Rotherham said deer tend to travel into town along the river corridors, with red and roe deer often spotted along the Rivelin valley, which is probably how they ended up at Crookes Cemetery, where sightings stretch back several years.

Graveyards appear to be a popular choice for deer, with several having set up home at Sheffield General Cemetery in Sharrow Vale during recent years.

The latest inhabitant has been causing quite a stir in the area. The roe deer has been spotted by numerous visitors to the Grade II*-listed Victorian grounds and has been seen straying onto surrounding streets.

Alex Quant, general manager for Sheffield General Cemetery Trust, said: "We believe it's been here for at least a year, having travelled along the Porter valley. Until two or three years ago there were no deer sightings at all, so it's quite a new phenomenon.

"I've never seen the deer but when members of the public see it they come to our office and are very excited. It's become a feature of the cemetery.

"About a year and a half ago we had a muntjac deer which was unfortunately attacked by a dog and died, though we later found it had a huge abscess on its jaw and was probably put out of its misery."

That ill-fated deer may have been the same one which in 2015 was rescued by firefighters after being swept down the Porter Brook in Sharrow.

A lack of natural predators, the mild climate and an abundance of food are all factors behind the rapid rise in the UK's deer population, which is now estimated at well over a million.

Although the vast majority are still located in the countryside, Mr Rotherham says he expects to see a 'further and major colonisation of deer into the urban environment' over the next decade.

He manages the Peak District & Sheffield Area Deer Survey, a citizen science project supported by the British Ecological Society which has been mapping deer activity in the region since the 1980s.

As the urban population grows, he is keen for more people to log their sightings and share any photos or video footage they have captured.

* You can upload your sightings, as well as finding a handy guide to identifying deer species, at http://www.ukeconet.org/deer-identification.html.

* Ian Rotherham writes about deer and other wildlife in the region on his blog Ian's Walk on the Wild Side.