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Country diary: A springtime mudbath for this herd of deer | Ed Douglas
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Country diary: A springtime mudbath for this herd of deer | Ed Douglas

If you want an intimate encounter with Britain’s largest land mammal, then the moors above Sheffield are the place to go. Walking up through deep woodland under Blacka Moor we came suddenly on a pair of red deer hinds watching us from among the trees, no more than 10 metres away. Nostrils flared, ears twitched, but nobody moved. Down the hill, a little further off, another four animals kept their soft black eyes on us.

In Scotland, those deer would have been out of sight by now, but the few dozen animals that inhabit the Eastern Moors have grown used to people and seem more tolerant of their presence. Our human herd being what it is, these deer now have a substantial social media hoofprint, and I expect there are photographers in the city who know each one individually – the stags at least – since they seem to attract most attention.

Outside the autumn rut, red deer often segregate between mature stags and the rest for reasons not wholly understood. It likely has something to do with the availability of food. This group was all hinds and youngsters, and the most intriguing thing about them was that they were all covered in mud. Just behind the larger group I noticed a patch of wet ground that looked like a herd of deer had just been playing in it. I looked at the deer again. Busted.

Wallowing is well known behaviour among stags during the rutting season. Red deer have scent glands between the toes of their hoofs, on their hocks and back legs too, and the mud is a way of spreading this self-advertisement all over their hides.

Mud baths don’t stop after autumn, however, and the girls get in on the action too. It cools them in the heat of summer but even in cold weather they still enjoy a wallow. The young ones often kick things off, planting their hoofs and skipping around in the muck. Hinds soon follow and aren’t averse to a well-aimed kick to get the best spot. Spread the mud, strengthen the love.

Source: theguardian.com