Top nature campsites
You’ll be amazed at the variety of animals to spot on some of our Club campsitesView our top nature campsites
Autumn brings the spectacle of the deer rut, when stags establish mating rights. David Chapman suggests five of the best deer parks that offer ringside seats
A pair of fallow deer rutting – note the difference in colouration
Autumn is the ‘rutting’ season for our larger species of deer – red, fallow and sika. It’s a spell during which testosterone-laden males compete for dominance in sometimes ferocious displays. The wilds of Scotland are wonderful for viewing this winner-takes-all phenomenon, but there are deer parks all over the UK in which you can witness it. The exact timing of the rut depends on the location and the weather, but October is usually the best time to see it.
The red deer is the largest of our deer species, the stags recognisable by their impressive, branching antlers. Slightly smaller are fallow deer, whose bucks have flattened, palm-shaped antlers. Our most common species, fallow deer vary in colour from white to dark brown and often have white spots. Sika deer are the least common of our rutting deer – the stags resemble small, but quite stocky, red deer.
A word of warning: although in deer parks the animals are often used to the presence of humans, a rutting male deer can be very aggressive. You can find some good observing tips and safety advice on The British Deer Society’s website at bds.org.uk/information-advice/about-deer/the-deer-rut. Here, then, are my top five places to witness the rut...
The deer park at Chatsworth in Derbyshire must be the most easily accessible for Club members as there is a Club campsite within the grounds of the estate. The park is home to both fallow and red deer, and it is possible to lie in bed in the early morning and listen to the roaring of rutting red deer stags.
When you have finished admiring the deer, the wonderful house is open to the public, there is a beautiful garden and you can enjoy the parkland and footpaths leading into the surrounding countryside.
Situated just north of Leicester, Bradgate Park is the ancestral home of Lady Jane Grey, the house where she is believed to have been born now standing in ruins.
Within the park there are a number of public rights of way and many other permissive paths, plus some areas which are for the sole use of the deer. A visitor centre and cafe provide an escape from the weather if necessary but, whatever the conditions, there are plenty of fallow and red deer to see all around the park.
Bradgate Park is also worth visiting for its magnificent old trees, in particular the veteran and ancient oak trees, which are truly wonderful, gnarled old specimens. If you wish to stay in the area, the Club’s Bradgate Certificated Location is adjacent to the park entrance.
Although it sits within a London borough, Richmond Park still offers a real sense of wild countryside. It is big enough to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, but compact enough to explore in a day. Red and fallow deer inhabit the grounds, and both are easy to find.
The park is home to an interesting selection of other wildlife. Wonderful old trees provide nesting places for a large number of ring-necked parakeets, which in autumn are busy devouring sweet chestnuts. The lake attracts a range of wildfowl, including extremely tame grey herons. In early autumn it is possible to see the willow emerald damselfly here; until recently, this species was only found in the south-east, but it is spreading.
The nearest Club campsite is Crystal Palace, from where public transport is the best option.
St Mary’s Church at at Studley Royal
Although I have never been to Studley Royal deer park at rutting time, I have visited in winter when there was snow on the ground and I was charmed by the place – it is magical.
Located near Ripon in North Yorkshire, this park is home to sika, red and fallow deer. At the top of the deer park is the beautiful St Mary’s Church, from which an avenue lined with old lime trees leads invitingly in the direction of Ripon Cathedral. Studley Royal is adjacent to the famous ruins of Fountains Abbey, which has all the usual National Trust facilities, meaning there is plenty to keep everyone in the family occupied for a day.
The nearest Club campsite is Knaresborough (about 11 miles away).
The jackdaw on the back of this red deer stag is unimpressed by the bellowing!
The sika deer is quite chunky with short legs
If you’re in Scotland and struggling to find wild deer, a visit to the Highland Wildlife Park near Kingussie is a great back-up plan. This isn’t a deer park as such – but it is a park and it does contain deer!
There is a large area where animals, particularly species found in the Highlands (historically or currently), are kept in enclosures and aviaries – these include wolves, pine martens, red squirrels, lynxes, capercaillies and wildcats. There is also a drive-through, populated with animals accustomed to northerly climes. It is in this area that a herd of red deer resides – and they look majestic in this highland setting.
I’ve visited at various times of year and never been disappointed. The nearest Club campsite is at Grantown-on-Spey (about 23 miles away).
Fallow deer at Bradgate Park
Every month I will show you a photo of something from the natural world. It might be part of a subject or a subject that is difficult to identify. All you have to do is figure out what it is! Here is this month’s photo – no clues, no prizes, it’s just for fun. (I will give you the answer next month, but if you can’t wait, see the Digital Magazine.)
The subject of September’s mystery photo was: brimstone butterfly