Caring for the deer at Knole
PUBLISHED: 11:03 16 December 2016 | UPDATED: 11:03 16 December 2016
The fallow and sika deer are one of the enduring appeals of Knole, and it's the job of keeper Dom Andrews to care for them all. Words by: Emma Ward. Pictures by: National Trust
Every working day, come rain or shine, Dom Andrews rises at early light to feed and check on more than 350 fallow and sika deer. He then spends the rest of his day keeping a close eye on his beautiful charges in his role as Park and Deer Keeper at Knole, home to Kent’s last remaining medieval deer park, in the heart of Sevenoaks.
Originally part of the wider maintenance team at Knole, Dom’s interest in the countryside led to his predecessor asking him to lend a hand in caring for the famous herd.
Dom eventually took over the reins and has enjoyed the rare chance to get close to the timid wild deer, descendants of those hunted by Henry VIII when he visited Kent.
He describes a typical day looking after them. “After feeding the deer with a specially formulated mix of feed, I’ll go on to make sure all the hay feeders are topped up. If the weather’s been particularly bad, I’ll check the fence lines and footpaths in the park, making sure no trees or branches have come down in the night.
“Then there’s usually some forestry work to do. We have a rolling plan each winter to thin the woodlands to allow the better, healthier trees to grow on. There are also ongoing jobs, like litter clearance and general upkeep, to make sure Knole remains a safe and tidy environment for both deer and visitors to enjoy.”
Winter is coming
In late autumn and winter, Dom must take extra care to monitor the health of the deer to enable them to survive the colder months.
“It’s important the bucks put weight back on after the October rut, as they don’t eat then and lose a lot of condition. The does will still have fawns at foot, and following the rut should be pregnant, so it is important that they are taking on enough food for the winter as well.
“Occasionally through November, the bucks will continue to fight as the levels of testosterone in their body are still high following the rut. I’ll do my best to stop them so they don’t cause any unnecessary damage to each other.”
Dom enjoys being around nature and watching the seasons change, and as winter gives way to spring and summer, he likes to watch the deer cast their antlers and grow new ones, as well as observing the young fawns playing in the park. Dom enjoys bird watching too, with buzzards and kestrels soaring overhead to search for food, and swallows raising their young in the tractor shed.
Knole’s deer park is open to visitors all year round, from dawn to dusk. While Dom and his team welcome visitors and are always happy to talk about the deer and other resident wildlife, they do ask people to respect their surroundings.
Dom says: “One of the biggest issues that we face when it comes to keeping our deer safe is dogs off leads. Fortunately, the vast majority of dog walkers who come to Knole respect this. Not dropping litter is also very important, as it’s not uncommon for deer to swallow litter, which can become lodged in their stomachs. Visitors should also not attempt to feed or pet the deer, as they are wild animals and best seen from a distance.”
Dom has some words of advice for anyone hoping to spot deer in the wild this month.
“The best times to see wild deer are at dawn and dusk, when they tend to be out and about feeding. They often favour woodland edges and hedgerows, as these offer added protection and camouflage.
“If you are lucky enough to spot a deer, always stay down wind, as they have an incredible sense of smell and will be gone in a shot if they catch a whiff of you.”
Find out more
For anyone especially interested in learning more about Knole’s resident deer, Dom is holding a series of special deer-keeping sessions over the weekend of 17/18 December.
The perfect gift for animal lovers, they offer a rare opportunity to get close to these traditionally shy creatures. The morning event costs just £5 per person (booking fee applies) and will include a 30-minute deer-keeping session, followed by questions and answers and a free hot drink in Knole’s Brewhouse Café.
Book online at: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/knole/whats-on.
Knole is open all winter, excluding 24 and 25 December. However, the park can still be accessed on foot via the pedestrian gates across the Christmas weekend.
There are also a number of festive events happening at Knole in December, from wreath-making to a family bauble crafting workshop.
Find out more online, or call the team at Knole on 01732 462100.