New research has revealed the extent to which Scotland’s indigenous red deer are breeding with non-native Japanese sika deer. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh studied the DNA of 735 deer from the Kintyre region. The research, which was funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the Macaulay Institute, was published in the journal Molecular Ecology on 20 January and showed for the first time the extent of cross-breeding between red and sika deer. Alarmingly, in one area of forest, more than 40 per cent of deer were found to be a mix of the two species.

Scientist Helen Senn said that sika, which were brought to Scotland in the 19th century, pose a real threat to the future of red deer: “The extent of cross-breeding we uncovered is worrying, and suggests that similar populations of red-sika hybrids could exist undetected elsewhere in the UK.
This cross-breeding represents a serious threat to wild red deer on mainland
Scotland. Thankfully, legislation already exists to protect the red deer on many of the Scottish Islands from cross-breeding with sika deer, but the mainland red deer remain at risk.”

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