Behavioural Responses of Park Red and Fallow Deer to Disturbance and Effects on Population Performance
Abstract:Within two London parks, Richmond and Bushy, both subject to high public visitor pressure, behavioural observations were undertaken to investigate patterns of habitat use by red and fallow deer populations, and to determine the response of the deer to human disturbance. Potentially disturbing events were considered as: i. people present within a distance of < 50m; ii. people present within 50m accompanied by a dog on a lead; iii. dogs within 50m off the lead; iv. people 'crowding' the deer - approaching directly and deliberately for photographs or closer observation; v. actual chases by a dog of the deer group or a member of that group.
All the above levels of disturbance caused a measurable change in the immediate behaviour patterns of the deer - reflected in increased levels of vigilance. Females responded more strongly than males of either species. However, the effects were relatively minor and transient in the great majority of cases, with animals resuming their normal activity very quickly after the encounter.
Overall daily time-budgets did not differ significantly between undisturbed days and days when disturbance levels were high; nor were any effects apparent on patterns of habitat use by the deer or in forcing the animals to change habitat more frequently. Further, throughout our studies there was no evidence that levels of disturbance caused by public access had any deleterious effects on body-weights or overwinter mortality.