Over the next few months, around 300 deer will be born in the parks. The season marks a vulnerable time for female deer, who hide their young in bracken and long grass to conceal them from dogs and other perceived predators.
Neighbouring Home Park (Hampton Court Park), which is cared for by the independent charity Historic Royal Palaces, will also be introducing the same requirement. They expect that 120 deer will be born during this time.
Simon Richards, Park Manager for Richmond Park, said: “We are introducing this measure for deer welfare reasons in what is the most vulnerable time of year for these animals. This measure also protects dogs.
“Deer are instinctively frightened of dogs, but when they enter birthing season, this fear takes on a new dimension. Female deer are afraid of dogs harming their young and, as a result, they will be on high alert and can display defensive behaviour. In previous years, female deer have been known to give chase and attack, even if the dog is at a distance and not acting provocatively. This can be extremely frightening to witness, particularly for the dog’s owner.”
Since the beginning of 2022, there have been over 50 incidents recorded of dogs chasing deer in Bushy and Richmond Parks. As many incidents go unreported, it’s expected that this figure is much higher. Unfortunately, in the month of March alone, The Royal Parks has been alerted to over 26 separate incidents of dogs chasing deer, the highest number since they began keeping centralised records.
During last year’s birthing season, when it was also compulsory to keep dogs on a lead, there was a 92% drop in incidents of dogs chasing deer in Richmond and Bushy Parks – two incidents recorded in those three months compared to 25 incidents in the preceding three months.
Dog walkers are warned, however, that having dogs on a lead does not completely eliminate risk, and the safest option is to exercise dogs elsewhere during the birthing season.
Richards adds: “Although deer are instinctively frightened of dogs, they will overcome this fear if they consider their young to be at risk. During last year’s deer birthing season, we were alerted to over 40 incidents of female deer shadowing dog walkers in Richmond and Bushy Parks. In addition to having their dogs on leads, it’s important that dog walkers remain vigilant, avoid areas of long grass and bracken, and stick to the perimeter of the park.”
The Royal Parks also urges all visitors to give female deer respect, privacy and space, and not to go in search of young deer. Under no circumstance is a new-born deer to be picked up. If visitors see one on its own, they should rest assured that its mother will be grazing nearby. Female deer hide their young whilst they forage for food to create the milk that they need to nourish their young. Throughout the course of the day, the mother will periodically return to suckle her new-born, but she may reject it if she picks up a human scent.
Advice to dog walkers:
- It is compulsory to keep your dog on a lead at all times, and in all areas of the parks, from 1 May until 31 July.
- Avoid the areas shaded in orange on the maps. These are typically areas of long grass and bracken where new-born deer could be concealed.
- If a deer approaches, let the dog off the lead so it can run away and doesn’t get hurt.
- Consider walking your dog elsewhere
Advice to all park visitors:
- Give deer plenty of space. Always keep at least 50 metres away.
- Avoid deer nursery areas. Give female deer privacy and respect.
- Never touch or handle a new-born deer under any circumstances, even if it’s on its own. It is not abandoned, and its mother will be grazing nearby.
To report an injury to a person, dog or deer, please contact:
Richmond Park: 0300 061 2200 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Bushy Park: 0300 2250 or email email@example.com
Photo credit: Cathy Cooper