Deer, Ticks, Lyme Disease and Ticksolve

Hi folks! Today’s blog is going to be a bit different. As some of you might know, Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve (NNR) recently collaborated with Ticksolve, a £2 million pound, multi-institution, NERC (Natural Environment Research Council) funded project. It focuses on environmental-based solutions, to reduce the current and future risk of tick-borne, zoonotic pathogens, in the UK. This extensive project will run from 2021-2025 and involves scientists from the UKCEH (UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology), University of Liverpool, University of Glasgow and the UK Health Security Agency and is part of UK Research and Innovation.

Research will specifically focus on three tick-borne diseases which currently pose a risk to the UK. These diseases include: Lyme disease, which affects 3000 people per year in the UK, tick-borne encephalitis (two human cases recently recorded in the UK) and Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (not yet detected in the UK, but it is expanding into Europe). Tick bite-borne disease can manifest into severe illnesses and can be life-threatening for people and animals, if left untreated. You may already be aware that ticks are most commonly found in areas of dense vegetation, including long grass, woodland and heathland. Primarily, they target mammals such as deer, cattle, sheep, dogs, small rodents and even birds; parasitizing on their blood. In the UK, deer are crucial in the life cycle of tick populations, as they support the tick through its various stages and acts as free transport across many miles of countryside; spreading ticks to new regions.

The aim of the project is to map out the highest risk areas in the UK for these diseases, with particular emphasis on Lyme disease, which is currently the most prevalent of the European tick-borne diseases in the UK. The field research element of the project involves the capture and GPS tracking of Roe Deer. By tracking tagged Roe deer, scientists can learn more about the relationship between tick-borne Lyme disease and the movement of deer; helping them to conclude where the highest incidences of the disease may occur in the UK.

The Muir of Dinnet is one of several Aberdeenshire field research sites for capturing, tagging, collaring and releasing deer for research purposes. On Saturday 4th February, we were involved in the successful capture and release of two female Roe Deer, and their movements are already being observed via their GPS tracking collars. It was fascinating and I was really excited to be able to capture the day on camera, as you can see from these stills.

In order to successfully capture the deer, several protocols had to be put into place. Firstly, many hundreds of metres of netting (supported upright by bamboo posts) had to be erected in the shape of a horseshoe, in an area thought to contain a healthy population of deer. This netting would later aid in the capture of the deer, but the second element in guaranteeing success, was people, over 40 volunteers in fact. Roughly 30 of the 40 volunteers acted as ‘beaters’. Some of our readers will have probably heard of grouse or pheasant beating, and this project involved essentially the same principle. A line of 30 beaters flushed the deer into the horseshoe shaped netting. When a deer became trapped by the netting, the other 10 volunteers would act as ‘net keepers’. They ran to aid of the deer, ensuring the animals were untangled, unharmed, but gently kept in situ and under control. Then the ecologists and veterinarians could mildly sedate the animals and carry out all of the necessary procedures (checking vital signs, tagging and GPS collaring etc.).

The GPS tracking collars will remain on the deer for 18 months in total (between the winter of 2023 and the summer of 2024). After which, the collars will run out of battery and no longer transmit location details of the deer, and so will be removed remotely. They are primed with a mechanism that will allow them to drop off. The team will then collect these collars for re-use in future projects.

The team have started tracking the deer already. One of the deer has moved across the B9119 road and back, while the other has only moved a short distance into the riparian area, just north and west of where it was captured. It is quite typical for captured animals to ‘lay low’ as it were, for up to 10 days from capture, at which point they usually begin to travel longer distances again. But the scientific team are very glad to confirm that both animals appear to be healthy and are thriving, and going about their daily lives as any Roe Deer should.

*** If you would like to find out more about Ticksolve, you can visit their website at https://www.ceh.ac.uk/our-science/projects/ticksolve and if you would like to volunteer in their upcoming deer capture events you can sign up on this link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScwWoRR0ODLlnTMcdfQGqgLBCGXc666MI6k_QSfwRe-XNV6-A/viewform?fbclid=IwAR3C_qRcOmbsk_9l-SO2iV8Tb5-lcoBhnt9Nl-4swKd8QNTjExGEktVBYz8 ***

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who participated in this essential research project, including all of the scientists and volunteers who have made it possible. On behalf of the Muir of Dinnet NNR team, we wish the scientists, ecologists and veterinarians involved, the very best of luck with the rest of the project. Thank you for taking the time to read the blog, I hope you enjoyed the slightly different subject matter. Take care and catch up again soon, Danny.

Freedom!

About dannyfabianharvey

Danny works for NatureScot as an Assistant Reserve Officer, at the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve, in the Eastern Cairngorms National Park. He graduated in 2019 with an MSc in Ecology and Conservation from the University of Aberdeen. This has provided him with the scientific rigor required when dealing with issues of Ecology and Conservation, coupled with a profound respect for wildlife and habitats. He directs his own short films, two of which were Highly Commended in the British Wildlife Photography Awards 2018. Currently, he is co-directing and filming a documentary feature called, 'The Bough Beaks', with independent production company, Mousehole Films, due to complete in the summer of 2023. Danny is regularly booked for his lively talks on Wildlife Filming, where he discusses the joys, challenges and techniques. Recently he has started working as a freelance bird surveyor, having conducted multiple farmland bird surveys for the James Hutton Institute for their Framework program. Previously, he has worked with the RSPB, Trees for Life and Aquila Ecology.
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