Dunham deer through the year...
Our fallow deer have become a much loved part of Dunham. Fallow deer have been part of our estate since the park walls were built in 1748, and they roam freely around the parkland. If you take a walk around the wider park, you’ll almost certainly see them munching on grass or reaching up to eat the low hanging leaves.
We’re lucky to have all four colours of fallow deer – common (tan with white spots, fading to a grey colour in winter), menil (tan but with white spots year round), melanistic (almost entirely black or chocolate coloured) and white (a pale sandy colour, turning white with age).
The deer may seem friendly and tame, but it’s important that people don’t approach or try and touch the deer. Getting too close to the deer can cause a lot of problems – feeding them can upset their balanced diets, people chasing them or trying to touch them can also make them ill, and picnicking in the park can lead to the deer eating all sorts of plastic rubbish left behind. If the deer get too stressed, they often retreat to the deer sanctuary. These areas are closed to the public and are marked with signs.
" They are wild animals and it’s important that they remain wild. If not, it can cause all sorts of problems for visitors and for the deer. This is why we encourage people not to get close or touch them, and especially for visitors to keep dogs on leads. This is their home and it should be respected."
Here are some key times you can see the deer in various stages of the life from a safe distance.
January and February
At the start of the year you may not see much of the herd as they often stay near the deer sanctuary. With the colder temperature, this is when the deer look their worse, their thick winter coats grey and scraggy.
People often think they look hungry or undernourished, but they’re still getting a good balanced diet. So they don’t need any extra scraps of food from visitors. The deer get all the food they need from the grass, but during winter they are being fed by the Rangers too. The herd are fed with a mixture of carrots and rolled barley grown at Home Farm. This ensures they are getting all the nutrients and minerals they need.
March, April, June
In April and May the deer start the process of casting. This is where their old antlers fall off. You’ll probably see some Bucks with one antler as they often don’t lose both at the same time!
Sometimes visitors get in on the action and find antlers lying around the park; if you’re lucky enough to find some, you can keep them! The best places to find them are usually in the long grass or by trees.
Late spring and early summer
June, July, August
The new fawns are born – the fawns are able to stand up within minutes of being born. The natural instinct of the deer is to protect their young, so it’s even more important that at this time, you give them space especially if you have dogs with you.
Fawns are rarely seen in the first few weeks of their life. They stay in the deer sanctuary, away from the busier areas of the park. They won’t venture further into the park until later in the summer. If you do spot a fawn, it’s a magical sight but you should keep your distance.
Don’t worry if you see a fawn on its own; Andrew says ‘they rely on their mothers for milk, so they’ll often leave them hiding in the long grass so she can spend time grazing. Please don’t get too close or try to touch the fawn, as there’s a risk that the mother may reject the fawn’. If you are concerned about a fawn, then please let one of the Park Guides or Rangers know.
For the bucks in the herd, they’ll be starting to re-grow their antlers. The new antlers come out all soft and look like they’re covered in a ‘velvety’ fur. From August onwards, they’ll shed this velvet layer, leaving bloody dreadlocks. You may notice them rubbing against trees or fences – anything with a hard surface – to get rid of the layer of skin! It looks really grim but the deer aren’t in any pain.
September and October
This is the breeding or ‘rutting’ season – this is where the bucks fight for the pick of the does with which to mate. The bucks, with fully grown antlers, are full of testosterone which means that the bucks smell strongly of musk and their necks thicken. They scrape hollows with their hooves, urinate and then wallow in it to deter any other bucks from coming into their ‘turf’. They also bellow at each other (you can often hear this noise early in the morning).
The rut peaks in October and during this time the bucks begin to parallel walk, sizing each other up. If another male approaches, they will start to below loudly (a sound that needs to be experienced!) as a way to warn them. If neither backs down they will clash antlers until one of the contenders if either injured or exhausted. The victorious buck gains the right to mate with the nearby females.
The best times to see the deer rutting is early morning when it’s quiet in the park.
In October we count the deer in preparation for the cull over winter. As deer have no natural predator in the UK anymore, it’s important to manage the herd. If we didn’t cull them each year, the herd would suffer as a whole. There wouldn’t be enough food and the herd’s health would suffer.
By November, the parkland trees are bare and this is the perfect time to see the deer.
The Park Guides can often be seen walking around the park, and they are more than happy to answer any questions you may have. If you want to know more about the park in general, the wildlife we have and the buildings you see in the park, then you could join a free guided walk daily at 1.30pm. We have special free guided walks on the 1st Saturday of every month.
Top tips for helping us to look after the deer:
- The deer look tame but they are wild animals. Please do not feed, touch or get too close to the deer. Unfortunately if they get too tame, we have to cull them.
- The deer don’t like human food – even though they will eat it (deer are born to eat non-stop!) it can really upset their diets and make them very ill. They get all their nutrients from the grass, or the trees. They also don’t need help eating: they are definitely able to reach the leaves in the trees.
- We ask that you keep dogs on leads at all times whilst in the park.
- Please don’t picnic in the park – you are more than welcome to enjoy one in the garden or the north park (near the car park) year-round.
- Look out for the deer sanctuary sign – this is a deer only place and is signposted. Please don’t enter this area as it’s where the deer relax away from the crowds.
- Watch out for path closures – there may be areas of the park that are closed during certain times of the year, e.g. during fawning season. Please ask at reception or look out for signage.