Country diary: deer still roam this forest where King John hunted

ight-time in the woods. A waning crescent moon reclines while in the branches of the oak tree. There’s no path; we thread between stands of coppiced hazel and thick trunks of mature trees, ducking to stop fine twigs that rake and catch, treading cautiously over fallen dead wood. Oak gives option to beech once we head uphill. The canopy thins and lifts to point out stars, glittering, additionally, the constellation of Orion striding north, club raised, hunting. We’ve been inside the former royal forest of Poorstock where King John pursued fallow deer and wild boar.

The deer will still be here. We pass a hazel that has been pushed sideways, with all the rind scraped from the lower trunk. Deer will peel and eat bark, and bucks mark their territories by rubbing their antlers on young trees.

There are three deer species located in the Powerstock hills: roe, sika and fallow. The fallow (Dama dama) descend from stock designed by the Normans, who imported wild animals with the eastern Mediterranean. Most of that herd are melanistic, being so dark in colour they can be almost black. A number of are leucistic, born a pale sandy colour that fades as time passes, until they are just like the white harts and hinds of medieval fable.

A male tawny owl’s call flutters out of your dark, the “huu-huw” promptly answered by using a female’s sharp “kee-wick”. We achieve the wood’s edge, cross a horseshoe of pasture and on to the lane. It was here, 18 years ago, driving home late, which a beast loomed out from the ditch facing us, snout raised, the silhouette of any bristle distinct while in the frosty moonlight. That it was an outrageous boar, a giant male, and behind him a sow, and behind her a trotting brand of ginger-striped piglets.

Specieswatch: Wild boar

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Those boar (Sus scrofa) were farm escapers that flourished. They dug up crops, scared the horses within the local foxhunt and bit walkers’ dogs. Most were shot, although not all. Too wily and too well adapted being eradicated, they are still here, evading the chase by lying hidden throughout the day, emerging during the night time to rootle and grub for their ancestors did.


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