On the very last afternoon of the school summer holidays (4th September), my husband (a teacher) and I took a last trip out together, and since we had to be in the New Forest, chose one of my childhood haunts, when my father was Forestry Commission Head Keeper for the north of the New Forest.
On this occasion my thinking was that we might see deer, and also dragonflies and damselflies. I spotted a distant mixed bunch of Fallow before we’d got off the tarmac road, and we weren’t to be disappointed by the mating Emerald Damselflies on the pond. We also found a good number of Bog Asphodel seedheads (Narthecium ossifragum), and what I take to be Oblong-leaved Sundews (Drosera intermedia) among the various wallows and valley mire areas (though you’re welcome to correct me if I’m wrong with my i.d.).
But it was the Fallow Deer that proved the most interesting to me on this occasion. It was a large group of 30-40 “small deer” as my Dad would describe them; does with fawns, and some yearlings, the prickets (yearling males) showing their first antlers. Among them were 5 melanistic (black) animals, one of which was definitely a fawn another being a mature doe. There was also a white doe, and a menil pricket.
It was a really impressive show of the range of colours that exist in the coats of Fallow Deer, and when we showed my father the photo’s later, he commented that it was the most diversely coloured herd he’d seen for many, many years.
The white deer aren’t albino, having normal coloured eyes, but do tend to have cleaves (hooves) that are paler than normal. Dad showed me a paper he co-wrote in 1975 for the British Deer Society journal ‘Deer’ (Vol 3, No7), which explains that the white deer had been in the New Forest for “a very long time” owing their origin to the historic parks north of the Forest. The black and menil deer were at that time a more recent introduction, with the Keeper of Holly Hatch recording the first black buck in 1945 from Loosehanger. The first menil Fallow was recorded by New Forest Keepers in 1965.
The records published in that report gives the Keeper’s 1974 survey as showing 63 white Fallow, 12 black and 15 menil. It would be interesting to discover what those numbers stand at more than 40 years later.
In the meantime, if you’re in the New Forest, do look carefully to see what deer you can see; only the Fallow have this colour range!