In 1515 Henry VIII gave Sir Piers Edgcumbe a licence to create a deer park near Cremyll. Sir Piers had made a very profitable marriage to an heiress whose dowry included the Rame peninsula as well as the ultimately much more valuable Stonehouse across the water. The deer park was established before even the house was built, and the descendants of those deer are still there.
Fallow deer are generally thought to have been introduced into England from their original home in Southern Europe and Asia Minor by the Romans. They are quite small, the does perhaps 80cm tall at the shoulder, and very pretty, unlike the muntjac, which we saw frequently when we lived in Norfolk. They look like spuds on matchsticks, and move about as elegantly.
The most distinctive feature of those we have seen – all females, so no antlers to show you – is the white flash on their rumps. Since in their park habitat one generally sees them running away, the flashing rump is very noticeable. The bucks are generally hidden away at this point; the does are pregnant, and will give birth in May and June. Then the mixed sex herds will re-form, so I might get a picture of some bucks with their famous antlers.
We had occasionally seen a group of three or four crossing in front of us as we returned from an evening out in Plymouth, but thought they simply lived in the woods around. But as there are more than two hundred, at the latest estimate, on the Mount Edgcumbe estate, it’s hardly surprising that we have seen quite large groups of them up by the different enclosures in the park.
The other day I managed to get several pictures of dozens of them congregating near the largest fenced area. It’s not fenced against them, as they can jump very elegantly over the wiring; it’s probably fenced against us and the sheep with which they are currently sharing the grass. The wind was strong, and we were undetectable for longer than usual.
One of the most extraordinary features of their habitat is just how many paths they make, often only a few feet away from each other.
To celebrate the 500th anniversary of the charter permitting the deer park, the Friends of Mount Edgcumbe decided to create a garden featuring two deer sculptures. This can be seen near the house itself. It’s rather charming, despite being quite odd.