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Visiting student using cameras to estimate deer numbers

ECN Wytham is the location of a study exploring the use of automatic cameras to better estimate size of the resident fallow deer population

Stephanie Wilson, a visiting researcher at the Wytham Wood ECN site, has been using automatic cameras to study the fallow deer population. She hopes the study will be of interest and benefit to foresters.

A pair of Bushnell Trophy Cams - triggered by movement up to 30ft (9m) away - are set up at feeders to attract the deer. Using two cameras increases the chances of detection and makes it more likely to catch both flanks, which is important to aid identification. The cameras have built-in infrared LEDs that function as a flash and allows both coloured and black and white images to be recorded. Steph identifies individuals to help her estimate the number of deer in the wood.

Fallow (pictured below) is the dominant deer species at Wytham. With the changing seasons, Steph has observed the deer changing from dark winter coats to their more characteristic spotted and patterned markings in late spring/early summer. The dominant buck has the boldest patterning, while other potential competitors have less bold patterning. Steph is not sure if this is just a coincidence, or if the dominant buck is somehow suppressing patterning of less dominant males.

Steph Wilson Wytham Deer Cam 3

When setting up the stations, Steph observed differences in behavioural response between different species of deer, in terms of their confidence with something novel and new. Roe deer were recorded on camera first, whilst fallow took about a month before they were comfortable in front of the cameras. Younger fallow males (bucks) were more confident than the older bucks and the females (does) seemed the most shy. Muntjac deer were the most shy species, and were rarely captured on the cameras. Interestingly as use of the stations by fallow deer increased, visits by roe deer decreased.

Steph's cameras have also captured images of other wildlife, including squirrels and badgers.

Steph Wilson Wytham Deer Cam 2- Badger

Further information

  • Steph is taking a year out from Nottingham Trent University where she has been working towards a degree in Wildlife Conservation BSc (Hons). Previous to working with ECN, she worked at Longleat Safari Park.
  • Steph began working at ECN Wytham in January 2015 and will continue until August. The camera trapping research was Steph's own idea for her dissertation project.
  • Camera traps to record mammals have been used at some other ECN sites, including at the Cairngorms and Glensaugh.