Wild deer herd at Knole
It’s hard to miss the 350-strong wild sika and fallow deer herd in Knole’s surrounding parkland. They are owned and managed by the Sackville family’s Knole Estate. While the National Trust doesn’t manage the herd, or the entirety of the park, it’s important to us that our visitors have the best experience possible, so here are some do’s and don’ts.
Do’s and don’ts
Unfortunately so many visitors to Knole are tempted to feed and touch (or even hug and try to pick up) these wild animals. We know they look cute, but we can’t state strongly enough that it's essential to resist the temptation. The herd should be treated like any other grazing livestock, such as cattle, and viewed from a distance. Once a young deer, or fawn, has been touched by a human, and has taken on human scent, the mother will often reject it.
Deer can become aggressive - particularly during the spring fawn and autumn rut seasons - and it's best to keep away from those antlers when they do. Ticks are also an issue in the summer which can cause Lyme disease – another reason not to get too close. So to all you deer lovers out there, please, please don’t touch or feed these beautiful creatures, always keep your dog on a lead and watch from a safe distance.
Please don't feed the deer
Deer will happily eat whatever they’re given all day long, but the type of food being offered by park visitors (including fruit and vegetables) is not their natural diet and will be harmful to them. If people start feeding them, they will associate humans with food. In time they will individually - and as a herd - expect food from any passer-by. This new behaviour can develop into pestering of all our visitors and deer are powerful animals. The natural plant life at Knole provides more than enough nutrients for the deer, and as well as grazing on acorns, conkers and sweet chestnuts during winter months, their natural diet is supplemented.
Take litter home
It is equally important to pick up your litter so that the deer do not chew or ingest it, which may fatally harm them. The recent increase in visitors and picnics has led to a rise in litter being left around the park. Please take your litter home for disposal.
What to do if a deer approaches you
Sometimes it’s hard to avoid contact as many of the deer will happily approach people in the hope of food, but this is chiefly as a result of becoming used to humans getting close to them. If a deer does approach you, ignore them and move away from the area.
Safety advice for dog walkers
Please keep your dog on a lead at all times whilst in the park. Just like a herd of cows, the deer in the park are wild, unpredictable animals that roam freely and can feel threatened by dogs, even those on a lead over long distances. This is particularly during the rutting (September - October) and the birthing (May - July) seasons.
Tick bites & Lyme disease
All woodlands and parks can attract ticks – you could be exposed to ticks whenever you are outdoors and enjoying the countryside, even in your garden or the local park. Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks, which feed on the blood of birds and mammals, including humans. To familiarise yourself with symptoms and things you can do to prevent tick bites, visit the NHS website: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/lyme-disease/.
About the deer
Did you know that the deer at Knole have been here much, much longer than the National Trust? The herd’s ancestors stretch back 500 years and the park is one of very few wild deer parks in England to have survived this long. The park was first enclosed by a fence in 1455 by Thomas Bourchier to indulge the passion for hunting at the time. The park is still populated by around 350 wild deer today and is managed by Knole Estate. It was originally stocked purely with fallow deer until a herd of Japanese Sika deer were introduced in the 19th century, and the two species now roam the landscape together.
Seasons to look out for
Antler shedding (April/May)
Towards the end of March and beginning of April the deer will shed their winter coats and the lighter summer coats come through. The deer start to look messy and untidy when this happens because the new coat comes from underneath and pushes the old one out. You might notice clumps of fur missing and the deer starting to look bare and patchy. Birds can often be seen collecting the deer's loose fur to line their nests.
Towards the end of April the bigger bucks start casting their antlers. They have been in full antler since August and the older bucks cast first. After that it is a sliding scale with the younger deer, known as prickets, the last to cast. This gives the larger bucks the longest period of time to grow the most impressive antlers.
Antler growth is governed by testosterone levels, which is at its lowest when the antler casts (and at its highest during the rut in autumn). The deer have an open sore for a day or two but the velvet soon comes through and the new antlers start to grow.
Calving & Fawning (June/July)
Deer tend to take themselves off and look for a bit of cover, and the deer are very quiet during labour, - a defence mechanism so they don’t alert predators who may hurt their offspring. A newborn fawn that is weak on its feet is an easy target. They tend to hide in the ferns and longer undergrowth for protection, so seeking them out is harmful to their wellbeing.
" If visitors see a fawn they should simply leave it be. If somebody touches it or picks it up it will have a different scent and the mother will not recognise that fawn as her own and she will abandon it. Touching a fawn is akin to signing its death certificate."
Even after they are weaned they will stay in family groups because they are herding animals. During the rut in September and October the fawns will be at their mother's feet, part of the crowd. Post rut you tend to get buck groups and the does and fawns will go off and spend winter together.
The Rut (October/November)
From mid-September onwards their magnificent antlers are fully grown, which signifies the highest levels of testosterone. The strongest visual sign that the rut is about to start is when the bucks make and hold their rutting stands. This involves scraping a small area of ground which they will then mark as their own by urinating in it and rolling around to release their scent.