Writer, zoologist and gundog enthusiast, Pippa blogs on life in the countryside

Fallow stalking on the South Downs

fallow stalking on the South Downs

The view from the top was worth the effort of getting there

Himself has recently been asked to assist with the fallow stalking on a substantial slice of the South Downs.   

Being short of things to do, he decided to accept the invitation, and  informed me yesterday that my assistance would be appreciated in the morning.    

I enjoy stalking on the Downs as the scenery is very different than it is on our shoot ground.  I am also always glad to grab any opportunity that arises  to film wild fallow deer.

An early start

At 4am I was awoken by the sound of torrential rain.  There would be no filming today.  Apparently however,  my assistance would still be required and a while later we set off in heavy rain and made our way up onto the cloud covered hills.

There’s nothing to it

My task apparently,  was simple.    All I had to do was make my way around the perimeter of a sixty acre field.   As I moved back along the lower edge my presence would be sufficient to encourage the deer to move along the woodland strip where himself believed them to be lying up.  He of course,  would wait in position at the other end of the wood.

What he neglected to inform me was that the aforementioned field had at some point in its geological evolution,  been picked up and turned on one end.   It was in fact, as near to vertical as a field can be without becoming a cliff.

Wild Fallow

Wild fallow are very different creatures from the park deer that so many of us are familiar with.   The fallow deer on the South Downs are extremely secretive.   They lie up in woodland during the day,  and only come out into the fields when it is almost completely dark.   This makes them hard to film.

Despite the fact that they move about in herds of sometimes thirty or forty deer,   these clever creatures manage to conceal themselves entirely for much of their lives.   Just occasionally you will come across one or more in daylight,  usually this happens at last light.   I have only a few precious clips of wild fallow in broad daylight,  most of those filmed from high seats,  but I always live in hope.

A view worth working for

Climbing up the field this morning was rather like using one of those particularly unpleasant stair climbing machines in the gym, by the time I reached the brow of the hill my legs and lungs were burning and all I could hear was the pounding of my heart.  But the muddy field edge was covered in fresh fallow tracks and droppings and I was hoping that the deer might still be in the field below as I peeped over the brow.  

Sadly,  as himself had predicted, they had already departed the field,  but the view from the top was worth the effort of getting there.   And thankfully the walk back was a lot more comfortable.

Deer management

There are large areas of forest along the upper edges of parts of the downs,  and within these forests the fallow herds can reach great numbers.    During the summer they emerge each night to cause havoc amongst the crops and for this reason their numbers have to be kept down to a reasonable level.    Unfortunately we did not have any impact on numbers this trip.  I moved five deer past himself in all,  but today none were shootable. 

That’s how it is with stalking.   Especially when  managing deer over such a large area.   Himself will usually make two or three unproductive trips for every successful one.

Next time I go with him,  hopefully the sun will shine for me.  Right now,  as I write, it is just starting to snow!

For more information on deer stalking in the UK,  check out this article:  Deer Stalking