The stag in question was not an intoxicated man celebrating his upcoming wedding; it was in fact a beautiful Red Deer with magnificent branched antlers, an auburn coat and an alluring cream coloured patch on his rump! He was strutting his stuff amongst the vibrant greens and rich autumn browns of Bushy Park, home to both Red and Fallow Deer that roam freely across the grounds. Red Deer are the largest of the UK’s resident deer species and can weigh 90 to 140 kg (up to 22 stone) depending on the food available. This young man was about a metre high (almost 4 feet) and seemed to enjoy sweeping his antlers across the reeds and bushes by the river. He ended up wearing a crown of twigs with pride.
The 320 deer currently residing at Bushy Park contribute to the diversity of plant and insect life by grazing which, unlike cutting, creates variation in the structure of plant life and does not damage the anthills, thereby adding character to the grassland. This chap certainly added character to his environment, with his funny hat and funny noises. He emitted a kind of bellow, like a loud creaking door or a grizzly human baby having a squeaky grumble. May be he was getting ready to attract the ladies as part of ‘rutting’ behaviour during breeding season. Apparently the stags invest much time and effort competing with other males for the females by having roaring contests and walking in parallel, bobbing their heads up and down and barking. Unfortunately, all this puffing of chests and clashing of antlers can sometimes lead to conflict, causing injuries or even death. It seems like an awful lot of effort just for a date. They should take a leaf out of my book and try swinging swagger and a cheeky grin!
Anyway, when deer are in rutting season (September to November) or when they are caring for their young (May to July) they can feel a bit vulnerable and defensive, so John and I hid behind a tree some distance away, ninja-style. The advice is to stay at least 50 metres away and not to touch, feed or photograph them at close range in case they become aggressive. They are wild animals after all. Here’s a little bit of info you might find useful at the next pub quiz. Only the males grow antlers which are made of solid bone and are shed and regrown annually, becoming progressively more branched as the stag gets older. Re-growing their antlers is a demanding business that requires a lot of energy and nutrition to complete, but a fresh undamaged set each year gives them an advantage, and quite frankly looks darn good!