Human-animal conflicts hit the headlines as Britain becomes more crowded, and there’s no animal in Britain as big or as conflicting as deer, writes Alex Howell. In urban parks in the summer, they are placid and approachable. The autumn brings dark nights, increased risk of collision with animals and – intoxicated by the deer rut – bucks and stags that may attack the moment you raise a mobile phone for a selfie.
In our new film series, A Year in the Life of Fallow Deer, we follow Swarovski professional stalker Darren ‘Phiz’ Phizacklea as he works on his cull programme on the estates he manages in Sussex. But what is it that makes this species of deer such an issue?
Part two of A Year in the Life of Fallow Deer: we pick up the story at the end of the fallow rut in October
The fallow deer is not a native deer species to the UK. Despite the number of ancient pubs called ‘White Hart’, which refers to the fallow buck in its white or ‘leucistic’ form, the Romans introduced the species to Britain, the Normans reintroduced it, and subsequent kings and noblemen nurtured it as a hunting quarry.
Today, it is Britain’s most popular ‘park deer’. You will see variation in the coat colour of animals, including common (brown with white spots), menil (darker), melanistic (black), and leucistic (white). All of them have a light-coloured area around the tail edged with black. The tail is light with a black stripe.
The breeding success of fallow deer contributes to the estimated number of two million wild deer in the UK. As many as 350,000 deer are culled each year by deerstalkers. Road traffic accidents are responsible for the second highest number of deer deaths, with up to 74,000 incidents being recorded every year. Despite the continued efforts from deer managers, wild deer numbers continue to expand.
In Sussex, fallow deer have become a problem. The habitat is tailormade for fallow to thrive. Phiz’s estate is close to the Ashdown Forest. Deer here damage one of the estate’s cash-earners, the Christmas tree plantation.
Phiz says: “On this estate we take annually 180-200 deer, 90% of that is fallow and the rest of that is roe and muntjac. Really this is fallow terrain.
“We have 3,000 acres of woodland and it really is a good environment for them. 180-200 sounds like a huge amount to take but we can do that year on year without having a detrimental effect on the population.
“We have to take that many, as there are farming and forestry interests here and if we don’t keep the numbers at a sensible level the farmer and forester get very upset and rightfully so.”
Phiz can usually be found accompanied by his seven-year-old Bavarian mountain hound, called Red Dog, which is there to hold up deer if the first shot is not successful. Phiz reckons he uses Red Dog for this job no more than two or three times a year. The figure is low because the guest cannot stalk on the ground without visiting the range first and Phiz will not allow them to go out without hitting the ‘kill shot’ area three times, to ensure that they are capable of shooting a deer humanely. This allows them to get used to the estate rifle and for Phiz to see that they will be safe when handling the firearm.
The fallow population problem, as it has become in the South-East of England, is not easily solved. Like all wild animal populations, numbers grow to fit the habitat and food sources available. The best Phiz – the best any deer manager – can hope to do is to ‘stay on top of’ deer numbers on his patch.
Part three of A Year in the Life of Fallow Deer: we join Phiz on a huge park fallow cull
Fallow deer make the perfect park deer. They are decorative, but the herd needs managing. Avoiing ramblers and other park visitors, Phiz has just a day to bring numbers down to a sustainable level. He is out with his business partner Hugo Campbell and his team in the South East of England.
Part four of A Year in the Life of Fallow Deer: we pick up the story at the end of the fallow buck season
It is the end of the seaosn and Phiz is feeling peckish. So what can you he cook up with fallow venison? He shoots a pricket, then teams up with a local speciality pork farmer to produce smoked fallow and a range of delicious sausages.