Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Norfolk's deer revela our influence

Norfolk is well represented when it comes to deer, with six species currently established within the county. While it might seem fairly straightforward to divide the six species into native (Roe and Red) and introduced (Fallow, Sika, Muntjac and Chinese Water Deer), things are not quite what they seem. The presence of all six species within the county owes a great deal to our activities and to the deliberate introduction of animals for sporting or personal interests.

Like the Red Deer, the Roe is an ancient inhabitant of Norfolk, its bones present in the fossil and archaeological record. However, both species were lost from the county historically, only to be reintroduced from imported stock. Red Deer had become extinct across much of England and Wales by the end of the Eighteenth Century and the same is almost certainly true for the Roe within East Anglia. The Roe that are present here today are most likely of German origin, the descendents of individuals introduced to Warren Wood, near Thetford, in 1884 by William Dalziel Mackenzie.

Other species have a longer pedigree, as in the case of Fallow, brought in to populate the 40 or so deer parks established within the county since Doomsday. Red and, in one case, Sika Deer were also used to stock Norfolk’s deer parks, which were status symbols for those wealthy enough to be able to build and maintain them. The earliest of our deer parks appears to be Costessey, dating from around 1086. Like the majority of our other deer parks, that at Costessey was lost many decades ago. Many disappeared during the Civil War but three remain today, two well-known and well-maintained and one about which I know rather little (but would like to know more). The two big parks are at Holkham (completed by 1759) and Houghton (completed in 1722); both have magnificent herds of Fallow, that at Houghton managed to favour the white form of Fallow, that at Holkham with the standard form. The other park is at Melton Constable, reputed to support 300 animals, roughly evenly divided between Red, Fallow and Sika, but since it does not have the sort of public access associated with Holkham it is difficult to know how the herds are doing.

One of the reasons for the demise of deer parks was the expense of maintaining them. Holkham has some nine miles of wall (which took six years to construct) and the maintenance costs are high. As land has changed in value, it has not always be easy to maintain large areas outside of agricultural production. Deer have from the parks and it is the descendents of these that are now doing so well in the county.

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