Kingston University Biodiversity Action Group

17-02-13 : Richmond Park Deer Trek

Hundreds of deer, beautiful scenery, glorious sunshine and a knowledgeable guide made our Deer Trek in Richmond Park a wonderful way for staff and students to spend a Sunday.

Striding out under a beautiful blue sky, KU staff and students finish Health Week on a high.
Richmond Park is home to two species of deer - Red deer (Cervus elaphus) and Fallow Deer (Dama dama). To our delight, it wasn't long before we found our first herd.

Our first sighting of the deer.
These Red deer grazing in the distance have been a familiar sight here at Richmond for centuries. Our guide- local resident, John Lock - told many entertaining stories about the Park and the lives of the deer that have inhabited it during our Sunday jaunt.

The iconic Red deer originated in Germany and were gifted to British Royals for their hunting parks in Windsor and Balmoral. Over time, some were moved to Richmond Park where they have happily settled and now attract many visitors every year. The rutting season (when the males compete to mate with the females) in October is particularly popular.

To control the total deer population in the Park, wardens conduct an annual cull to keep numbers stable and the population healthy. At its height, the Park supports 800 deer, dropping to 650 in Spring after the cull. This takes place at this time of year when the Park is locked at night and targets the oldest and injured deer.

Richmond Park sits on gravel so theoretically should drain well, but the quagmires we came across were a mark of the extent of rainfall we have had recently.

A rare sight - Richmond Park was waterlogged in places.
We had to make a few detours on our trek to avoid the worst of the waterlogging.

Naailah, Amy and Jess help each other across the boggy terrain!

Our walk continued up Spankers Hill (no one knows where the name comes from - let's leave it to your imagination!). This is the spot where deer are frequently found as the females gather on the top of the hill, and their scent attracts males to follow up through Spankers Hill Wood.

Deer silhouetted at the top of Spankers Hill.
We too gathered at the top of the hill to observe the deer like John has done on so many occasions. He had brought with him some souvenirs of his days in the Park - a range of deer antlers. These proved a fascinating talking point, and everyone relished the opportunity to feel their weight and take a closer look.

Standard kit for John - binoculars and deer antlers at the ready!
He was able to tell us how young deer often get the upper hand as they have the advantage of short, quick-growing antlers. All deer lose their antlers every year, but the older ones take longer to regrow, leaving them vulnerable to bullying from the younger ones whose smaller, dagger-like antlers have already established. Growth takes place between May and August every year and unlike in the wild, the bigger stags have nowhere to hide from the playful young ones so just have to suffer their 'games'! It is a good way of wearing the new antlers in and getting the shock absorption system up to optimum performance, but sadly can result in painful damage or breakage to the older deer's antlers while they are being formed.

Amy and Naailah examine the young antlers John brought to show us.
Tha antlers are an impressive construction, and although size can be effective, during rutting season the winner is often the deer which is more aggressive. They are 'designed' in such a way that opposing antlers interlock if they are of a similar size. Much of the antler is designed for defence, apart from one outward facing prong which can do some damage. Most of the time both deer live to fight another day, neither really wanting to get hurt; the rutt is more about a show of size and strength.

John was able to tell us about one deer - Big Whitey - who was an OAP and no longer had this prong on his antlers, they grew without this 'guard rail'. This made him very dangerous as his antlers could easily get stuck with an opponent's. The unusual way the antlers interlocked meant a deer could easily be blinded and would have no defence having only ever 'trained' with standard antlered deer. Big Whitey was responsible for the death of at least one other deer because of this.

John explains the significance of each antler's shape and how deer with shared parentage will have similar antlers.

Marlon weighs up the antlers. Would you fancy carrying these on your head all day long?! I don't think so!!

Aside from the deer, John also talked about the vegetation in Richmond Park. It has been heavily influenced by both humans and the deer. One of our first stops was on Broomfield Hill - named after the broom plant (Cytisus scoparius) that once populated the area.  The deer, however, have since consumed it and now this area is covered in bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) - a toxic fern which is indigestable.

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) can be seen in some parts of the Park which is another favourite of the deer; they use it for training purposes. Young fallow deer test their antlers on the gorse branches as they are bendy but robust.

Another species currently found in Richmond Park is Rhododendron ponticum - just like ours at Kingston Hill campus! Like us, the managers of the Park have organised work parties to steadily remove the invasive species from the Park to encourage greater diversity.

Not only were the deer beautiful, but the rest of the Park was equally picturesque. Here, fallen leaves cover the ground in a gorgeous golden carpet in Spankers Hill wood.

As we entered the final leg of our trek, the deer did not disappoint. We came across another herd, this time the Fallow Deer that live alongside the Reds.

John admires the Fallow deer herd grazing
Startled by some cyclists, they make a run for it across the road with leaps and bounds. Yet another photo opportunity for our trekkers.

With glorious views at every turn, and an informative and entertaining guide our trekker's enthusiasm didn't wain as time ticked on. We spent 3.5 hours in the Park and covered approximately 8km - a great achievement. It just goes to show it doesn't always have to be 'no pain, no gain' when it comes to exercise!

On the downhill slope, trekkers head for the finish line.

We ended the day with trekkers asking for more. And for those of you who do want to take part in similar activities, why not check out the Friends of Richmond Park's website. And now you have been introduced to the beauty of Richmond Park, right on your doorstep, come and explore more of it in your free time. Don't forget you can also get involved in more KU Biodiversity events throughout the year. Coming up we have a litter pick in the River Hogsmill on Wednesday 6th March. Why not wade in and join us?!


  1. Looks amazing! Gutted I couldn't have been there :(

  2. I love animals and so much more facts about deer.
    are you doing one next year

  3. At the moment there are no plans, the Friends of Richmond Park undertake walks each year some of which may include deer walks. They are a really active group and well worth joining if you love finding out more about the wildlife of Richmond Park and undertaking guided walks.