It was this time last year when I last saw a group of sika deer in Strathnairn, just south of Inverness, where I live. As usual I just presumed that they originated from Strathdearn, the next strath south where they were introduced many years ago. Now, after reading two books by G. Kenneth Whitehead I have my doubts as to their origin. Their introduction to Strathdearn was in about 1900, the first introduction of this deer into Inverness-shire. Mr. William D. Mackenzie brought them in from his deer park at Fawley Court in Buckinghamshire and turned them out at Glenmazeran and Glenkyllachy. This was normal practice for landowners and had the advantage that deer in other parts of Britain could be in good condition to cope with the severe weather they could face in the Highlands. In those days deer were brought in for three main reasons. One was just for showing off in the deer park, whilst another was for fresh meat, in other words venison, and the other for sport. The sika in Strathdearn did not have a good time as they suffered from the severe weather in some winters. After the sale of Glenmazeran in 1929 many of the sika deer were shot and by 1949 it was thought they were extinct. However, within ten years they started to reappear again which is a sign as to how secretive they can be in the woodland they prefer so much rather than the open hill like red deer. Interestingly, their offspring are still there, along with red deer and roe deer.
The two estates in Strathdearn are about eight miles south of Strathnairn so where are the other introductions of sika deer in this part of the Highlands? By far the nearest is at Aldourie Castle estate that lies just over six miles south of Inverness, at the head of Loch Ness. It is about seven miles west of Strathnairn. At the same time, around 1900, as the introduction of sika deer to Strathdearn eight sika deer were introduced to Aldourie. They were brought down from the huge, 2,000 acre, and famous deer park at Rosehall in Sutherland where in 1923 there were no less than 150 red deer, 200 fallow deer, 40 roe deer and 50 fallow deer. This was very unusual to have all these deer species in a park as fallow were normally the favourite for deer parks followed by red deer. The sika at Aldourie did much better than the ones in Strathdearn which is not surprising as the weather was influenced by Loch Ness and the nearby sea would have been much milder that in the Monadhliath hills of Strathdearn. From this original Aldourie introduction the sika spread remarkably and by 1933 were along the whole of the east side of Loch Ness as far south as Glendoe. Then, by 1960, they had spread even further reaching Fort Augustus and had reached Aberchalder and Culachy. In 1949 there were reports of Sika at Corriegarth and at Brin, near Farr. It could still be tempted to think that the Strathnairn sika had come from the introduction into Strathdearn but there is a simple reason they did not take this route. I can see the reason from the window of my study as on the far side of the strath are bare hills between here and Garbole in Strathdearn. Sika deer are essential woodland deer and so the bare hills have been a barrier to them. So the sika deer I see in this strath would have originated from the Aldourie Castle estate, via Rosehall in Sutherland.
Tags: highland wildlife