Stags lock antlers near the river South Esk in Scotland. Richmond Park in London has been forced to issue advice on photographing red deer during the rutting season [Photo credit: Callum McInerney-Riley]
‘I have seen 60 photographers around a single [deer] harem,’ said Richmond Park’s assistant park manager Adam Curtis.
Though Curtis said this number is an exception rather than the rule, it is normal to see groups of at least 20 photographers gathered around deer at weekends, in the hope of seeing stags lock antlers.
Richmond Park is home to more than 600 deer, which are allowed to roam free.
In an interview with Amateur Photographer (AP), Curtis explained that disturbance of deer during the rutting season has the potential to affect the quality of the population by weakening the herd.
This is because the dominant male becomes exhausted in its attempts to mate with females, which scatter when disturbed and who may later mate with a ‘subordinate’ male instead.
‘We want the deer to behave naturally,’ said Curtis adding that annual visitors to Richmond Park have doubled to 5.5million over the past decade.
Such is the scale of the problem that, for the first time, Richmond Park this year decided to issue an appeal – urging photographers to keep at least 50m away from the animals and ensure they use a long lens and a tripod.
Amateur photographers are seen as the main culprits during rutting season, rather than commercial photographers who are required to first apply for a Royal Parks permit and therefore not regarded as a threat.
And though the smartphone revolution has led to an overall increase in disturbances to deer throughout the year, cameraphone users are not the problem at breeding times, according to Curtis.
He advised photography enthusiasts to avoid peak times by visiting mid-week, and to be prepared to move away from the first herd they come across.
‘Rutting is a spectacle people enjoy and like to photograph…
‘Don’t just stay at the first harem you see at the gate.’
Curtis, who told AP that photographers are the most peaceful users of the park, stressed there are no plans to issue a ban on photos during the month of October.
‘That would be a sorry state of affairs all-round,’ he said.
Dog walkers are also a threat. In an earlier statement Curtis said. ‘We issue this advice for the wellbeing of our deer and park visitors.
‘Deer can become stressed and behave unpredictably if they feel threatened by dogs or have hordes of people standing close by trying to take pictures.’
Royal Parks’ advice to photographers:
• Always keep at least 50 metres away from deer;
• Never touch or feed the deer. Deer are wild animals, not pets;
• Avoid getting in between two deer; and
• Never photograph the deer at close range, use a long lens and consider taking photos at off-peak times such as early mornings and weekdays.