Looking after the deer at Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal

Couple watching deer in the deer park at Studley Royal

The National Trust manages over 4,000 deer in twelve parks in the UK. This management is an essential part of our work in the parkland and the countryside we look after. Deer parks are often ancient pasture-woodlands and designed landscapes of great ecological and historical importance. They are also an important resource for everyone to enjoy.

How do you manage the herd in the park?

In conjunction with Natural England, our primary aim in Studley Royal Deer Park is to maintain the herd in a healthy condition. We monitor the deer regularly – ensuring their welfare is of the utmost importance to us.

The management of the deer park is year-round, our work involves repairs to the historic perimeter wall and fence repairs, checking the herd for injury and monitoring their health, calving, culling and winter feeding. Deer have been managed in this landscape for hundreds of years. There are many deer parks in the care of the National Trust and our aim is to keep the deer as wild as possible, with minimal management.

Why is culling part of your deer management?

Studley Royal and Mackershaw Parks are enclosed areas and to ensure the welfare of the deer, we have a responsibility to maintain a sustainable herd. This involves both culling and winter feeding; if these two important parts of the management are not followed, deer numbers would rapidly exceed the carrying capacity of the park, compromising the health of the herd.

The British Deer Society and the Deer Initiative of England and Wales fully endorse humane culling by rifle as best practice in culling deer as part of herd management. We conduct all operations in a safe and humane manner and we openly support the case for deer management, of which culling is only one aspect.

Without any natural predators, like wolves, culling is essential to maintain a healthy herd size.

With any enclosed herd it is also important to manage the ratio between the males and the females otherwise it can lead to unnatural levels of fighting for too few females. Sick and weak animals are culled so that the strongest deer will breed, contributing to the overall health of the herd.

When does the cull take place?

The cull takes place Oct – Feb but usually starting after the October ½ term.

What happens to the venison from the deer park?

The venison is currently sold to six buyers as well as sold through our restaurant at the Visitor Centre. We follow strict post-mortem examination procedures. Any carcases we sell are either collected on the day or within 24 hours by a local venison dealer. Each animal is tagged and the tag remains with the animal throughout the process so the provenance of each and every deer can be traced. We can guarantee that the deer we sell is completely free from additives - we don’t feed deer antibiotics or growth hormones.

Is it ok to access the deer park if you’re culling?

We advise all our visitors to keep a safe distance from the deer and keep dogs safely on leads at all times of the year, as the deer are wild animals. During autumn and winter when the cull is taking place we ask people to stick to tarmac paths and remain at a safe distance from the deer herd, specifically on weekdays between 8.30am – 11.30am. There is signage to advise our visitors to keep to the tarmac drives at the entrance to the deer park and these are also on display in Studley Royal car park.

What health and safety precautions are in place?

Our team set times for culling and follows a strict procedure in accordance with health and safety guidance. We use spotters for tracking the herd and ensure we are conducting the cull in a safe zone. According to National Trust guidelines, all culled deer must be shot by a trained marksman using a high velocity rifle, and they must meet minimum standards of competence and be party to the Trust's deer management and firearms licences. Risk assessments are also carried out to ensure correct procedures are followed at all times.

What can you do to help us?

We can all help to make sure the herd remains a healthy part of this ancient parkland.

  • Litter left in the park can be very harmful to the deer when they are grazing, especially ring pull cans, metal screw top caps and broken glass. Dog mess (in bags or otherwise) is a growing issue in deer parks.
  • It’s not an uncommon event to find deer in the river with broken legs having fallen off the cliff faces after being chased or frightened by unleashed dogs. The deer are most vulnerable in June and July when they are calving. Even the best trained dog in the world has a natural instinct to hunt, and young calves can be attacked or killed.
  • During the deer rut and annual cull, it’s important that visitors keep to the tarmac paths between 8.30am – 11.30am to help the team work safely.
  • The rutting season is a special time of year to visit the deer park and we want everyone, both deer and people to stay safe.
  •  If you’re taking a photograph of the deer don’t creep up on them, stand in the open where you can be seen doing this reduces the chance of the deer acting aggressively.