DEER. A source of joy and a prime feature of
Exmoor, indeed many would say ‘The Pride of Exmoor’.
There are around 3000 mature red deer on Exmoor and no
matter how many times they have been seen, the sight of
a big stag with a full head of antlers is guaranteed to
bring a thrill.
There has been
a shortage of mature stags in recent years which inevitably
leads to a weakening of the stock, but it is hoped things
are now improving. Hunting on Exmoor is a way of life
for many and one benefit of this has been that much
of the moor has been kept open and unfenced. The policy
of ENHS is neither for or against hunting but the welfare
of the deer is paramount. The rut or mating season takes
place in the Autumn when the sound of stags roaring
defiance to each other in the twilight can send a chill
to the spine.
Around June the hinds drop their young (called calves
not fawns) in scrub or bracken and move away some distance
so as not to draw attention to them. They come back
every few hours to feed them so if you find an apparently
abandoned calf DO NOT TOUCH IT. Your smell may cause
the mother to desert it and they are almost impossible
to rear in captivity. The stags drop their antlers each
Spring and regrow them. Searching for cast antlers is
a prime sport for local youths.
Our Society has conducted several deer
counts on Exmoor in the past and the numbers arrived
at (between 3 – 4 thousand) agree with professional
counts which have taken place more recently.
EXMOOR PONIES. An ancient breed of
wild pony which has lived on Exmoor from time immemorial.
In 1777 the stock of ponies in the Royal Forest was
422. When the Crown sold the Forest in 1818 the ponies
were disposed of by auction except for 20 of the best.
These were sent to Ashway Farm owned by Sir Thomas Acland,
and allowed to run on Winsford Hill. It is from these
20 ponies that the present day pure bred herds have
descended. Although not wild in the true sense of the
word - all have owners - they run wild on the moor for
part of their lives. A recent saying that they were
"rarer than the giant panda" in numbers has
prompted the National Park Authority to obtain some
herds of their own and they may now be seen on North
Hill, Minehead and Ley Hill as well as in their traditional
locations such as Withypool Common, Winsford Hill and
DORMOUSE (Muscardinus avellanarius)
These charming creatures, not mice
but nearer to squirrels, are included in the Biodiversity
Action Plan for Exmoor. Attempts to increase breeding
by installing nest boxes are taking place in several
areas including one site of 50 boxes which are monitored
by licensed members of Exmoor Natural History Society.
Sometimes called the Hazel Dormouse because of their
liking for hazel nuts, they in fact need a varied diet
of berries and seeds. They spend many months asleep
in winter and need to fatten up with food beforehand.
ELEPHANT HAWK-MOTH (Deilephila elpenor)
A common but striking moth which frequently
comes to light traps in July. It may also be seen feeding
at Honeysuckle flowers at dusk. Its long tongue enables
it to reach nectar at the bottom of the flower tubes.
The larva has a trunk-like snout which gives this moth
its name. When disturbed the snout is retracted and
the head swells up showing a large menacing eye-spot
to scare away predators. The larvae feed on willowherbs
and bedstraws. These were abundant in 2003 during a
trapping exercise at Malmsmead Natural History Centre.
HEATH FRITILLARY (Mellicta athalia)
In 1982, Roger Butcher, ENHS Ecologist
and Bird Recorder, found a dead Heath Fritillary butterfly
in an Exmoor combe. He took this to Noel Allen at Alcombe
Books for confirmation and after this they surveyed
all suitable Exmoor sites finding tens of thousands
of Heath Fritillaries in about 20 areas. Previously,
this butterfly was only known to breed in Kent and Cornwall.
The food-plant of the larva is cow-wheat which is semi-parasitic
on whortleberry but they are occasionally found on foxglove.
It is a RDB2 species.
Numbers remained high until a decline in the 1990’s
after which they dropped to just tens in two or three
sites following a series of wet, cold June’s,
their main flight period. Recently, however, they have
begun to make a come-back but numbers still barely reach
hundreds rather than thousands. ENHS members have surveyed
this species every year since 1982.
plan to add further portraits of Exmoor Wildlife
to this section in future