The rise in popularity of social media, and the availability of smartphones has been blamed for the rise in people taking unacceptable risks in Bushy and Richmond Parks.
The rutting season (breeding season) is now underway, in which male deer compete for breeding rights from now until November. Red stags and Fallow bucks, flooded with testosterone and adrenaline, roar and clash antlers in a bid to fight off rivals and attract as many females as possible.
To prepare for the annual rut, stags will bulk up and grow calcium rich sharp antlers. Maintaining a stronghold on their harems is tiring work, and the dominant stags are hyper vigilant and aggressive to potential rivals during this time. Dogs and even humans who try to get between a stag and his females run the risk of being injured if a safe distance of at least 50 metres is not adhered to.
Over the years, there have been incidents where visitors have suffered injuries from rutting deer which may have been avoided. Only last year a young girl, who was being photographed next to a rutting stag, was injured in Bushy Park, and the previous year a visitor was hospitalised after suffering injuries from a male deer in Richmond Park.
“These incidents almost exclusively happen when people ignore our 50-metre rule and get too close,” explains Adam Curtis, Assistant Park Manager for Richmond Park. “You wouldn’t go on safari and take a selfie with a lion; the same logic should apply here. My advice is to be inconspicuous, and if you want to see rutting deer in action then take binoculars.”
Over a thousand wild deer live in Richmond and Bushy Parks, and The Royal Parks are reminding visitors, especially parents with children in tow, to exercise caution. They are also appealing to photographers to use a long lens and to never crowd the deer. Dog owners are advised to walk their dogs elsewhere, as attacks on dogs are not uncommon at this time of year.
In April 2019, The Royal Parks introduced a Volunteer Ranger Service in both deer parks, to improve visitor experience and to educate people on wildlife protection issues such as behaviour around deer. Apart from placing themselves in harm’s way, visitors getting too close can also inhibit natural behaviour, stress the deer out and lead to females giving birth later in the season when the young are less likely to thrive.
Curtis concludes: “Approaching wild deer at any time of year is unwise but during rutting season it’s downright dangerous. Putting yourself, child or dog near a 25 stone stag with sharp antlers, is extremely risky. Being hit by a stag running at full speed of 30 miles an hour is the equivalent of being mown down by a motorbike.”