hero's day out at petworth

This is the tale of the catch up at Petworth Park of the fallow deer

I have at last, after 7 years planning, got my Fallow Deer in the Knepp Park but what an adventure it was getting them there. 

I wanted a hundred from Petworth and eighty from Gunton Park in Norfolk. The Petworth herd has been in captivity for 250 years and is one of the oldest Deer Parks in the world. Dave Whitby, the head Keeper on the Leckenfield Estate (Petworth Estate) invited me to come and choose the animals I wanted. He said that each Fallow was to be caught up by hand, inspected, wormed and (on the males) the antlers cut off before being transported to Knepp. 

I must say this all sounded mad, knowing Fallow as wild woolly animals and extremely intolerant to being handled – how the hell were we going to catch them? Well Dave had done it all before with a group of mad men called the “Mammal …………Society”. This society is made up of dedicated deer men willing to put life and limb at risk for the future of the deer spices. All I can say was when I turned up at Petworth Park, on a very cold and wet February morning, the 40 or so men women and children that confronted me were more reminiscent to an international Rugby team dressed in Barbour after a particularly wet Irish game. 

The Fallow had been fed into a holding area of about 5 acres for a couple of weeks and that morning there must have been a couple of hundred animals quietly grazing in the enclosure. Dave’s plan was to push the 200 odd deer into a prepared trap in the form of a 200m by 40m fenced in avenue of limes. At the bottom of a 5ft bank running down from the Limes was a dirt track running the whole length of the avenue. The idea was to put up four catching nets across the avenue – these nets are like the mist nets used for catching bats and birds but of course bigger and made for deer (they are designed to collapse if touched so entangling the deer in a mass of netting). 

So the 40 of us set off to herd the fallow into the trap. The first thing that happened was 30 animals jumped clean over the double 6 foot 6 fence before we could surround them. It’s a fair site seeing Fallow jump with what seemed little effort some 18-foot. The rest after some further slow herding were caught. Dave Whitby then gave us instructions that we should hide behind the trees in the avenue and when a deer got caught in the netting we should run down the bank and rugby tackle the beast. When you had done that you were to place a facemask over the head so the animal could no longer see and then tie up the legs before putting the animal on your shoulders to be moved to the next stage of the inspection and worming.

Sounds simple enough doesn’t it; well it would have been but for one thing bucks and there antlers. In amongst the Fallow we had trapped a fully-grown Buck (now known as Max). He had already killed some of the does so had to be caught and quick. Now here we come to the part of the story that has a hero, my cousin Hugo Smith. Now many know Hugo at times as “The Wild Man of Glen Vaich” so I suppose it should not have been such a surprise when what happened next.  

We had been told by Dave in the mornings briefing that if we were charged by a buck the best policy would be to flatten yourself on the ground and hope the beast jumped over you. Well not Hugo, the buck had made the fatal error of tripping just at the base of the tree Hugo was hiding behind. Hugo without a thought charged down the slop but the animal having had time to recover saw that the worrier was about to be on him, so bowing his head charged his attacker. Hugo instead of dropping to the ground carried on the charge; they met with a bone-shattering crunch. Hugo managed to take some of the impact and control it as he flipping the beast on to its side. Ten men from all around were then pilling in on top of the two writhing figures and Max was ours.  

Hugo, later that day, was admitted to Hospital with acute septersemier and spent a happy 5 hours on morphine and antibiotics drip. Discharging himself in time to eat a Grouse dinner with the hunting party back at Knepp. He then went on to beat Anthony Burrell and me at a game of “three-ways-chess” with the plastic tub for the morphine still dangling out of his arm.