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Deer population in Sonian Forest plummets

15:02 27/02/2018

The population of European roe deer in the Sonian Forest has dropped by 50% over an eight-year period. The Sonian stretches across all three Belgian regions, and the figure comes from three environmental agencies, which co-operate to perform an occasional count.

The count is carried out four times a year across a 118-kilometre stretch of the forest. The current number of deer in the forest is around 80, according to the agencies. In 2009, the number was 175.

The researchers said that it’s possible that the figure is due to deer being more adept at hiding in the forest’s undergrowth and that they’re simply not seeing as many as they used to. In order to eliminate this possibility, they are working to measure the height and thickness of undergrowth compared to previous years.

But there are obviously more troubling possibilities, such as an increase in traffic – and, therefore, deer getting hit by cars – on the roads that cut through the forest. “Measures have been taken against such accidents, which would mean that if it’s the reason for the decrease, numbers should come up again over the next few years,” said a researcher from the Institute for Nature and Woodland Research (Inbo).

Forest ranger Dirk Raes, meanwhile, pointed to an increase of people using the forest and especially letting their dogs run loose. “A few days ago, a pregnant deer was hit by a car,” he told VRT. “They are very intelligent animals, and normally they avoid the roadways, so she must have been in a panic, probably because of a dog. We lost two deer, just like that.”

Casaer said that a longer-term study would have to be carried out into the cause and solutions for the decreasing deer population.