When I say ‘invasive non-native species’ the first thing to spring to your mind may be mink, the American signal crayfish or Rhododendron ponticum.
It probably isn’t Coco Chanel. A keen angler and worthy of more Shooting Times column space than I can offer, Chanel unknowingly has had a small role to play in the arrival into Sutherland of one of the most fascinating, resilient, prolific, challenging and tenacious nonnatives in Britain today: sika deer.
The 2nd Duke of Westminster began his affair with Coco Chanel in the 1920s. After spending time in Sutherland on his newly acquired Reay estate — where Chanel was reported by Winston Churchill to have caught some 50 salmon from the Laxford over two months — the Duke proceeded to buy Rosehall estate. Whether the deer park there I was established by previous owners or the Duke and Chanel in their efforts to renovate the property is unclear, but it provided a home to herds of red, fallow and sika for many years.
When the affair ended in 1929, the estate, its grounds and deer park fell into disrepair. With walls crumbling, the sika did what they do best — escape and thrive.
Cervus nippon are Asiatic deer. There are several subspecies depending on whether they originate in Japan, China, Taiwan or elsewhere and debate over whether the mainland deer are ‘pure’ sika or hybrids of red deer or wapiti.
Sika hinds generally stand around 50cm-60cm at the shoulder and stags 70cm-80cm — though stags may grow to 100cm-120cm. Anyone who hunts or manages sika will testify to their guile but also their adaptability— from feeding and diet, to mating strategies, to their social organisation.
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