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Safety in Bushy Park

Autumn Deer Rutt

Deer

The two herds of deer in Bushy Park are wild animals. They can be unpredictable. The safe distance to observe deer in the park is 50 metres. That is the length of three London buses.

If you are photographing them, stay distant from them. If you approach them closely, the deer may become disturbed and aggressive. If a deer approaches you, move away calmly. If you are walking a dog which is not on a lead, do not to allow the dog to get close or harass the deer. Do not try to feed or stroke the deer. Human food is unsuitable and harms the health of the deer.

During the birthing season (early summer months) deer mothers hide their new born calves in bracken, long grasses, and bushes. If you inadvertently approach a hidden deer the mother is likely to charge aggressively at you or your dog.

During the rutting season (in the Autumn) the male Bucks and Harts (or Stags) fight each other for the right to breed with the females. The stags are full of testosterone and will bellow across the park to announce their presence and invitations to fight. Do not get close to the deer at this time of year. They are dangerous. If you get between two opposing stags, or between a stag and his harem of females, you may be attacked. Deer have been injured by dogs or cars. Occasionally deer have injured dogs or humans or attacked passing cars, during the birthing season or during the rut.

The deer have been the residents of the park for centuries. Visitors to the park must respect they are in a space where the deer roam and the deer are wild animals.

12 things you should know about the deer rutting season

Deer rutting (breeding) season is under way and will last until early November. Richmond and Bushy Parks are home to over 1,000 free roaming Red and Fallow deer and during the rut you may notice some behavioural and physical changes in the stags and bucks.

Find out more below about one of wildlife’s greatest spectacles.

*There are slight differences in how the fallow and red deer rut, so for the purposes of this article we mainly focus on the red deer, the UK’s largest wild land mammal.

1. During the rut, you may see one stag with up to 40 hinds
The biggest stags will hold harems in the middle of the rut when most of the hinds (female red deer) are in season (oestrus)
The smaller stags will lie in wait to try to mate with the hinds when the dominant stag is in battle or exhausted following a fight.

2. Holding a harem together is tiring work
Being king of the castle comes at a price. The biggest and strongest stags spend most of their time chasing away challengers and preventing hinds from straying, leaving little time for eating or sleeping.

3. Keep your distance, bring binoculars
If you would think twice before entering into an enclosed space with a bull, then we urge you to apply this common sense to wild deer, especially during rutting season when stags are flooded with testosterone and adrenaline.
In the run up to the rut, a stag will weigh around 25 stone and have sharp antlers. Being hit by a stag travelling at full speed of up to 30mph is the equivalent of being mown down by a motorbike.
Please remember that deer are wild animals, keep 50 metres away and do not wave food or mobile phones in their faces. We urge all visitors to keep their distance, both for personal safety reasons and to avoid disrupting the natural behaviour of the rut.

4. Their roar reflects their size
In the lead up to the rut, there are a number of physiological changes to male deer including an increase of testosterone, the doubling of neck thickness, the larynx becoming more prominent and the tongue changing shape.
Roars are used as the first line of defence as a way to deter rivals. A deeper louder roar signals a larger animal. The sound of a roar can help rival stags determine from a distance whether to try their luck, and females can use it to judge the best quality males in the area.

5. If roaring does not deter a rival, they parallel walk
If two roars are evenly matched and neither retreats, the animals parallel walk to assess the size and condition of their opponent. If neither deer backs down, they will lock antlers and engage in a shoving match to settle the dispute.

6. Male deer wear a headdress to look more formidable
Stags will thrash about in the vegetation to make themselves look larger. They will also urinate and roll into muddy areas called wallows. This is their equivalent of aftershave on a Friday night!
During the rut you may also notice the male deer tasting the air, this is to determine if the females are ready to mate.

7. Dogs should be on a lead or walked elsewhere
Whatever you do, do not let a dog run in between a stag and his harem. Females come into season for as little as a few hours every 18 or 19 days so a dog’s presence will not be welcomed.
During the rut keep your dog on a lead and under close control. If a stag approaches you let the dog off the lead so it can run away.
If you witness a dog chasing a deer, please call the on-call police officers for Bushy and Richmond Parks on 07920 586 546.

8. Photographers – please do not crowd deer
All visitors are reminded not to crowd the deer during the rut. In previous years, we have witnessed dozens of photographers surrounding a single stag. It is not only incredibly dangerous, but it’s also stressful for the deer and can interfere with the course of nature.

9, Towards the end of the rut dominant stags are extremely tired
As the rut advances, harem-holding stags become more exhausted and there is an increased chance of them being overthrown. A stag barely eats or sleeps during the rut and can lose up to a third of its weight during a fortnight of intense activity. If you see a stag resting on the grass, do not take this as an invitation to go and pet him. Believe us when we say it won’t end well.

10. In previous years visitors have been injured during the rut
Over the years there have been incidents where visitors have suffered injuries from rutting deer that may have been avoided. In 2018, 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. All incidents almost exclusively happen when people get closer than the recommended 50 metres.

11. How the fallow deer rut
There are slight differences in how the fallow bucks rut. During breeding season, bucks can form a lek – a gathering of males engaging in a competitive display to attract a potential mate. Unlike the red deer who operate harems, it is not uncommon to see a group of 40 does (female fallow deer) with four or five big bucks. In common with other large deer species, during conflict, the buck’s behaviour escalates from groaning and parallel walking to fighting.

12. Say hello to the Volunteer Rangers in Richmond and Bushy Parks
On weekends we have Volunteer Rangers in Bushy and Richmond Parks to educate people about the deer rut and why it is important to keep your distance. However, it’s important that people take responsibility for their own safety and remember that deer are wild animals who deserve respect and space.

Oak Processionary Moth

Oak Processionary Moth is present in Bushy Park, Home Park and South West London generally. So please be careful when you visit the parks.

May is the time of year when the caterpillars of this invasive Moth are on the move. If you come across the caterpillars or their webbed nests, please do not touch them and keep children and pets away.

The hairs of the caterpillars carry a toxin which can be a threat to human health, causing skin rashes, eye irritation and respiratory problems. In high numbers the caterpillars can also cause defoliation of oak trees.

In late April / early May pesticide spraying takes place on oaks in busy areas and those where they have been previously heavily infested. Careful surveying of the parks is undertaken by volunteer spotters to locate nests which are then tagged for later removal by specialist operatives using spacesuit-like protective clothing and equipment.

Ticks and Lyme Disease

Ticks are small creatures that feed on the blood of animals and sometimes humans. They can’t jump or fly so cling onto vegetation waiting until a host brushes past to attach to their skin. The population is at its peak from April to October.

While the risk is very low, ticks may transmit Lyme disease and visitors should avoid tall vegetation and keep legs and arms covered. Very few ticks carry the disease, which is a bacterial infection but it is recommended that you check for ticks after walking in the Park. You should immediately remove any that you find on yourself, accompanying children or dogs.

If concerned, you feel unwell or a rash appears; consult your GP immediately. For more information, please see The Royal Parks website, notice boards within the park, or visit the Bushy Park Office for a leaflet.

Park Regulations

Under Royal Parks Regulations it is an OFFENCE to:

  • Interfere with a plant or fungus
  • Climb or interfere with a tree
  • Take fish
  • Take birds’ eggs
  • Worry or injure an animal or bird
  • Feed or touch a deer
  • Drop or leave litter
  • Permit a dog to foul
  • Fail to keep a dog under control or (where required) on a lead
  • Permit a dog to chase, worry or injure a deer or other animal
  • Cycle or roller skate except on designated paths
  • Ride, drive or cycle dangerously
  • Ride, drive or cycle at night without lights
  • Drive above the 20 mph speed limit
  • Park anywhere other than in the car parks
  • Play games or sport, fly a kite, drone, or model aircraft except in designated areas
  • Carry on a trade
  • Bathe in a pond

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