“We have a situation” was how the ever laid-back Rhodri described the infiltration of a different species among the Fallow Deer of Parc Dinefwr. The alien was a Red Deer Stag. He could be dangerous to visitors. He could be a threat to the resident deer, but most importantly he could have created or used a breach in the boundary fence, and the security of that fence is a big part of my volunteer job, so at short notice I travelled to Llandeilo this afternoon to check the boundary, thus freeing Rhodri to do some urgent office work. I suspect he would rather have been walking the boundary, but he sounded grateful.
I started at the South East corner of the park where there is a boardwalk through a boggy wood – a popular area for the visitors and very unlikely to be the source of the breach. Ten minutes later I had checked that section and stepped round the barrier which marks the beginning of the sanctuary area – out of bounds to the public.
With high pressure, temperatures around 10, no wind, and a light blanket of mist and cloud, you could almost breathe the peace. I was so glad to be there after the excesses of Christmas. The southern end of the sanctuary area is the wildest – two steep valleys lightly sheltered by big old trees and interspersed with small meadows. It is exciting in early summer when the does use the dense bracken to hide their foals, but in mid-winter it is deserted. There is little food here, and the deer seem to prefer to be in the forest areas near the two fields where, on alternate days, the noise of a tractor approaching means turnips: much more nutritious than the winter grass.
The fence looked undisturbed except for several badger runs scraped under it. The ancient moss-covered wall which forms the Western boundary was also undisturbed, but when I came within sight of the middle field I could see a large group of mostly dark coloured does. A quick count suggested 130, roughly what I would expect if this is the whole of what I call the Rookery Ridge group. They began to move up the valley. I trod carefully from tree to tree, until I could see the Turnip Field, and there, unmistakably large and red was the stag. Before I could get a picture he was gone, but I knew where to follow him and having checked the rest of the wall, moved quickly across the open ground to the wooded ridge where the Badger Hide is. This is the territory of the second group which I call the Brown Path Gate group. Their colour is more varied, but how much mixing goes on between the two groups I don’t know. Peering slowly and carefully over a low ridge I saw the does in one of their usual haunts, and then the big fella, towering over the Fallow does, and a gorgeous rufous colour. I’d brought my much lighter 18-400 travel lens for this trip, but now wished I had the big lens to do him justice.
He’s following a small group of does southwards along the ridge – or is he driving them? He stamps and they scatter. He trots one way, turns and trots the other. He’s not happy, and neither are the does who seem afraid of him. They all move away.
With enough pictures taken and most of the boundary checked I go through the Brown Path Gate, out of the deer park and down to Newton House, the Estate mansion. The National Trust offices are there and I expect to find Rhodri at his desk, dealing with his chores. He’s there, nose not quite to the grindstone because he’s chatting to Carol who is the Estates officer for the County. The big question is “how did he get in?” The only bits of the fence I haven’t yet checked are the least likely to be breached. Carol thinks he may have got over the wall.
“There are piles of logs on the other side which he could have climbed up. Red Deer can jump up to eight feet. Our fences are only six” Rhodri thinks the section of railing along one of the public paths is the most likely. I agree.
“You may be right Carol, but I didn’t see any disturbance on this side of the wall which I would expect if he had landed after a huge leap. The railings are much easier. Any idea where he might have come from?”
“I think he’s an escape – there’s a deer farm over by Paxton’s Tower. Or if not, there is a small group of wild red deer on the beacons. Both are east of here.”
I tell them I have some pictures and they both move in to see them on the camera screen. Rhodri notes the very different antler style. Carol is envious:
“I looked all over for him first thing this morning but didn’t see a sign.”
“How old do you think he is?” I ask.
“Three or four years. He’s not fully mature.”
“Right, I’m going to check the last bit of fence. I won’t need the radio. If I see anything out of place I’ll ring or text.”
Just as I enter the deer park again, right in front of the big house I see Rufous again, harassing a group of does and a half dozen mature bucks. Even these magnificent animals look small against the Big Red.
I ring Rhodri and ask him to tell Carol. When I reach the highest point on the East of the park I see him again: restless, unhappy.
He can’t be left here causing havoc. Sadly this will be his last day. Tomorrow at dawn the cull team will track him down. There are worse ways to go.