Menace of the muntjac is approaching

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EXPERTS believe it is only a matter of time before an alien species of deer starts to creep across the border and into local gardens, fields and forests.

The Reeves muntjac, also known as the barking deer because of the noise it makes, was introduced to Britain from south-east Asia during the late 19th century century, when the 11th Duke of Bedford released several into Woburn Park.

A number of escapees in the years since has led to an explosion in their numbers. They are now one of most widespread deer in the UK and starting to push towards the Scottish border.

No bigger than a springer spaniel, the muntjac, (pictured, top of page) holds its rump higher than its shoulders. It has large eyes and a long tail which is held upright when it is alarmed.

Cute, perhaps, but the problem is they can be very destructive, eating almost anything that is planted. The muntjac’s diet of tender shoots and woodland flora, as well as its taste for rose gardens, means it has become one of the country’s most unloved foreign introductions.

Muntjacs are regarded by farmers and timber growers as little short of vermin. Most people only see a live one when they swerve to avoid it as it wanders out from the edge of the road at dawn or dusk.

The species is believed to be involved in a large proportion of the 60,000 collisions between deer and vehicles which occur each year on England’s roads, costing around £17 million in insurance claims.

If muntjacs invade Scotland in substantial numbers, the cost of dealing with them has been estimated at as much as £1.9m a year.

A report commissioned by Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) on how to deal with deer spreading to Scotland said the cost of eradicating muntjac could range from £3,683 to £60,625 each time for populations of up to 200 animals.

Muntjac could arrive by spreading through north-west of England to the Solway Firth, or could head for patches favourable habitat around Kielder, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Dunbar, said the report.

Researchers have asked Scottish councils for details on any zoo licences issued to keep the deer. Only Fife Council said it had done so, for animals at Fife Animal Park and at the Scottish Deer Centre, while Jedforest Deer and Forest Park, near Jedburgh, confirmed it had no muntjac in its collection.

SNH deer expert James Scott told TheSouthern that his agency has had no confirmed reports of muntjac in the Borders or elsewhere in Scotland. “But they are spreading steadily northwards and there is an expectation it is likely they will arrive here at some point,” he said. “It is a non-native species and would be a fairly damaging agent if it does arrive.”

MSPs recently backed an order to destroy muntjacs found in the wild in Scotland.