The deer at Knole Park
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The first record of deer kept for hunting in Knole Park dates from Archbishop Thomas Bourchier in 1456.
Today’s fallow deer number about 400, descendants of that same 15th century deer herd. In the 1890s, they were joined by a smaller number of Japanese Sika deer. Please do not approach, pet or feed the deer: when they become tame, they are dangerous to visitors, particularly small children.
Fallow deer (dama dama)
Introduced to southern England in the first century AD, they’re grouped in different colours: common, menil (very similar to common, but with more spots and a brown border around the tail), melanistic (very dark, almost black, like a dark Sika) and albinistic (nearly white, but not albino). Knole's fallows are smaller than average, possibly because they are a fenced population, and some inter-breeding may have occurred with the smaller Sika. Their antlers (males only) are different from those of other species in that they are palmate (plate-like) rather than simply branched and pointed.
Sika deer (cervus nippon)
Introduced to Britain in the 19th century, Sika deer were first imported as an ornamental addition to parks. They're naturally found in north-eastern Asia, from Siberia to southern China.
Winter feeding at Knole consists of three different food sources: haylage, offered all through the winter, with fodder beet and concentrate nuts primarily in snow and hard frosts, fed in long lines to allow younger deer to come into the feed sites without being pushed off by larger animals.
The annual rut
The fallow rut is normally at the beginning of October when bucks can be heard grunting - often quite loudly. This is followed by the Sika rut, with stags often heard whistling. During the rut, fallow bucks often return to the same stand year after year. Sikas are much more territorial during their rut than fallows. Large bucks cast their antlers first, in March. The younger deer and those with smaller antlers cast theirs later, in April and May.
Gestation is normally around 230 days. The first fawns arrive in early June. They go through three coats of fur when growing up, and after that their coats only change from summer to winter. If you find a young deer hidden in some rushes, it's very important not to touch it: it has probably been hidden there by its mother, who leaves it for the day and comes back in the evening to feed it. Rather like birds, if mothers do not entirely recognise the scent of their young, they may abandon them.