Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Wild in the Country

On my way home at dusk, recently, I was driving up the curving incline of the road between Little Iwood and Great Iwood, just outside Rushlake Green. As I came around the bend, something large was in the road up ahead of me but the brief sweep of my headlights failed to reveal its true form. As I got nearer and slowed to a halt, I realised it was a buck, an adult male fallow deer, and it was showing no intention of getting out of my way.

Not for nothing have my children nicknamed this stretch of road, Deer Country. Since I left London over ten years ago, I have seen more deer on the roads in my part of East Sussex than I have seen foxes. I was given some early advice by a neighbour on the matter: if a deer runs across the road in front of your car, stop and wait; others will be sure to follow. It has turned out to be good advice: many times, I have stopped at the sight of a running deer only to see two or three follow in its wake. Stories of fatal accidents – both to driver and deer - are legion in this area.

The closest I have come to a deer-related accident was when I used to travel to work on a motor scooter. It was dark, and I thought I had seen something whizz across the road in the distance. I slowed, stopped and waited - but nothing happened. Then, just as I was about to pull away, there was what can only be described as a stampede of deer – some, adult males - across my path. Had I not stopped, I would surely have been trampled underfoot.

Deer roam wild in the countryside of East Sussex, particularly in large and sparsely populated areas; but they are also found close to towns and villages. They are overwhelmingly fallow deer, although there are some roe deer living in Ashdown Forest. The fallow deer population has increased dramatically in the last thirty years due to milder winters, falling demand for venison and the changing attitudes of landowners: more farmers are prepared to tolerate grazing deer in woods and fallow fields.

Back at my most recent encounter, the deer was snuffling at something on the road surface. He did not seem to be alarmed by the glare of my headlights or the idling of my engine. Just as I was wondering what to do next, he lazily looked up and stared in my direction. Illuminated in the bright light, with his stately posture and towering antlers, he looked magnificent. After a few more seconds of stand-off, he then sauntered away into the wood. I waited a few moments, and then drove away slowly, happy to have shared the road with such a beautiful creature.

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