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January/February 2013

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Mary Davies contemplates the local deer

Back in the days when I had a cottage in the mountains, not so many years ago, it was a rare treat to see deer. Very occasionally, driving through the uplands at night, a small group would be caught in the car headlights as they bounded across the road to disappear mysteriously into the forest. And although my garden was not far from the upper edge of the cultivated land, I do not remember ever seeing their traces there, not even in the little field behind.

 These days my upland friends often tell stories about the depredations of deer in their gardens. One friend, close to the forestry and with horses on her land, has her grazing affected - at night she looks out and sees deer browsing in her fields. More than once she has felt it necessary to call in a licensed marksman: but the deer are not frightened away for long. Even my farm friends on the other side of the reservoir, well away from the open hills, have deer visiting their patches of woodland.

With such stories of the deer as nuisances, rather than as wildlife to be enjoyed, it was a great pleasure to see them as one would wish. There is a famous beauty spot at the very edge of the highest moorland, a deep valley surrounded by high cliffs on three sides, where a dark, almost circular, lake gives way to an extensive green sward. Remnants of old deciduous woodland cling to the cliff sides, and the grass is dotted with mature trees. The owner has added a variety of new plantings, for this is a private valley. And it is a valley where a large herd of Sika deer, their forebears introduced to Wicklow a century and a half ago on the Powerscourt estate, flourishes undisturbed in natural-seeming surroundings.

I was there with friends on a misty day, just before the first frosts. It was a calm morning and the waters of the lake softly reflected the encircling cliffs. A small stream, rippling towards the lake, caught what little sunlight there was. The deer were grazing among the trees on the valley floor, but, shy of our presence, it was impossible to get close enough to see them clearly through the mist.

It was only when we were driving away, our business finished, that we saw a few of the herd plainly. At the side of the narrow driveway winding steeply between the valley bottom and the public road far above, deer were feeding on the slopes, not greatly disturbed at first by the approach of a vehicle. When we stopped the car they turned to look at us before they wandered off, unhurriedly, among the trees.

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