For his monthly column in the Richmond and Twickenham Times, Adam Curtis talks about his experience as park manager when it comes to the rut - the spectacular and dangerous time when the male deer fight for territory.
“In the 13 years since I joined The Royal Parks as Richmond Park Manager the job has been challenging, often surprising, but always a privilege, giving me the chance to care for and enjoy a truly incredible place There have been many memorable incidents in the park over the years – some bizarre, some funny, and some concerning.
“Many readers will have visited the park more times than they can remember. However, Richmond Park is large enough to fit all seven of the other Royal Parks inside its boundaries, and always has something new to discover. Through this column, I want to get you thinking a little more deeply about this vast wild space, right on your doorstep.
Richmond Park's famous residents
“I can’t begin writing a column about Richmond Park without touching on our most famous residents. The 630-strong deer herd can be traced back to the 2,000 animals which roamed freely on this site in 1637. Fleeing from the plague, Charles I set up home in Richmond, introduced the deer and took the less-than-popular decision to enclose the land, as his own personal hunting ground. You can just imagine how the locals felt about 8 miles of wall going up around this huge parcel of countryside, where they gathered food and firewood. Sections of that wall are still standing.
September marks the start of the rut (breeding season). The males – red deer males are known as ‘stags’ and fallow deer, as ‘bucks’ – are now sporting impressive, fully-grown antlers. Less attractive are the bloody remains of the velvety covering being shed from these, so no cause for alarm should you spot a male adorned with some gory headgear. Look out for stags and bucks thrashing their antlers about in vegetation to build up their neck muscles. They are getting ready to pick and defend a territory. You may spot them hotly contesting piles of bracken, which have been cut back by our team and left to break down, before we compost them. These temporary ‘summits’ offer a perfect spot from which to bellow at competitors.“
Best viewed from a distance
“Rutting season brings another regular visitor to the park – the roaming photographer. These mysterious creatures tend to gather in large packs around competing deer, seriously risking their own safety. I have seen 16 people surrounding a single stag. Filled with testosterone and ready to fight bitterly, this is not the time to be cosying up to these subjects, majestic as they may look. Stay safe by keeping well clear, and make sure dogs do too.
You may remember a high-profile incident a few years ago when Fenton the labrador was caught on camera chasing a herd of deer across the park into a busy road, while his irate owner ran after him, shouting and swearing at him to come back. The video became a YouTube sensation with millions of views, but it did communicate a serious message about the importance of keeping dogs under control at all times around wildlife. Incidents like this endanger and traumatise deer but as the video shows, they also place other park users, such as motorists, in danger.
Like many of our wild residents, deer are best appreciated from a distance. If you want to see these majestic creatures behaving naturally during the rut, stay back, stay safe and always respect their space.”