Silhouette of a buck in Richmond Park at sunrise, London
© Ian Schofield Images/Offset/Shutterstoc
Antlers at dawn. Red deer stag, Richmond Park
As the sun rises over grassland in Richmond Park, the largest of London’s eight royal parks, we get a glimpse of one of the red deer for which it is famous. More than 600 deer roam freely around the 2,500-acre park, which boasts royal connections going back centuries.
Henry VII built Richmond Palace here sometime around 1501 and he and his successors hunted in the area. In 1625, Charles I decided to move his court to Richmond Palace to escape the plague in London. His decision to introduce 2,000 red and fallow deer, and to build a wall around what had been common land, did not go down well with locals. But the deer remained and continued to reshape the landscape, nibbling away low-level leaves and twigs on the trees and grazing on tree seedlings, keeping the grassland open. Today Richmond Park is a National Nature Reserve, an established home of ancient trees and rare species from fungi and wildflowers to beetles.
Red deer, like the stag in our homepage image, are indigenous to Britain and are our largest land mammals. They start growing those famous antlers in the spring at a rate of up to 2.5cm a day, ready for the rut – or breeding season – in September, when the males clash over females. The antlers are shed at the end of the winter, in time for the process to begin anew.