There were reindeer here in Britain in large numbers around the time of the last ice age, 35,000 to 50,000 years ago. There were wild herds of reindeer in Scotland right up until the 13th century when, like so many of our large native herbivores, they were hunted to extinction.
Image by Are G Nilsen (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons
Large herbivores help maintain ecosystem carbon. In science-speke, they can increase the persistence of ecosystem carbon through redistributing carbon from aboveground vegetation pools vulnerable to disturbances into persistent soil pools¹. This means they eat the carbon stored in the plants – where it is easily released into the atmosphere by fire, loggers and farmers – and after processing it through several stomachs, poop some of it out to become part of the soil where 80% of the world’s sequestered carbon is more securely stored.
In other words, large grazing animals like reindeer are part of the planet’s system for taking carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it away in the ground. Perhaps those who are trying to rewild Britain by reintroducing large European herbivores should consider bringing back the reindeer. Ho ho ho!