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Looking after the deer at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal

Herds of deer at Fountains Abbey in the autumn
We look after three different species of deer here at Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal | © J Shepherd

The National Trust manages over 4,000 deer in 12 parks in the UK. This management is an essential part of the work in the parkland and countryside cared for by the National Trust. Deer parks are often ancient pasture-woodlands and landscapes of great ecological and historical importance. They are also an important resource for everyone to enjoy.

How do you manage the herd in Studley Royal and Mackershaw deer park?

Our primary aim in both Studley Royal and Mackershaw Deer Parks 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, raising awareness during calving, annual 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 Deer Parks are enclosed areas and to ensure the welfare of the deer, and to protect the nationally important parkland habitat, we have a responsibility to maintain a sustainable herd. This involves culling; without which deer numbers would rapidly exceed the carrying capacity of the park, compromising the health of the herd and the parkland habitat.

The British Deer Society 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 males and females – not doing so could cause 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 when daylight promotes safe working conditions between October – February but not normally on Fridays or during the school holidays and weekends. It is usually completed by 11am. Cull dates for 2024 are:

Tuesday 16 January

Wednesday 17 January

Thursday 25 January

Tuesday 30 January

Wednesday 31 January

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 put out signage to ask people to stick to particular paths so that we can carry out culling safely. Culling is usually completed by 11am, Monday-Thursday. It does not usually take place on Fridays and never on weekends or during the school holidays.

What health and safety precautions are in place?

Our team set times for culling and follows a strict procedure in accordance with our health and safety guidelines. 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.

Pick up litter

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.

Keep your dog on a short lead

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.

Keep to the paths and look out for signs for closed areas

During the deer rut and annual cull, it’s important that visitors follow all signage in place, some of which will restrict access to certain areas – this is really important to help the team work safely.

Give the deer plenty of space

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 or surround them. Stand in the open where you can be seen as doing this reduces the chance of the deer acting aggressively. We advise against wearing camouflage.

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