Sometimes you catch the end of a drama. Sometimes you are caught within it. Today’s lesson: when people divide up ‘our’ land, we can accidentally divide wild territories too.
Frosts found the North Downs this week, stiffening the grass and blurring the skies. Last night was chilled – a true early-winter night, with bright stars and an ambience that makes you appreciate gloves. Out in the woods, the vast fall of beechmast and chestnuts must be coming to an end. I’m starting to see roe deer again, crossing footpaths in early morning, but at some point last night, a doe took a route that made everyone’s life more complex.
She left a meadow where I often photograph foxes, hooves on frozen tussocks, following trails beaten by livestock and wildlife. She slipped around a barbed-wire fence on the left of the field, and entered a copse. Humanity would have been none the wiser – except that, when I took Khamsin for a dawn walk, one of her young ones was still in view.
I wasn’t particularly worried. Animals often need to experiment to find their way around obstacles, and I assumed that he would find whatever gap his mother had used. He didn’t seem interested in the watcher and Belgian shepherd on the road, but I wanted to give him space to navigate around the fence, and continued my walk with a mental note to check on him later.
I was looking for foxes, but as has been typical lately, they were elusive. I did find a waterfall of light in the trees…
…and leaves defying the turn of the season.
No foxes, and I returned to the meadow. My spirits sank a bit.
He wasn’t going to get out. Up and down, up and down – he didn’t pause for a heartbeat. His forlorn pacing was uncomfortably remincient of a tiger trapped in a zoo.
Intervening when a wild animal is in trouble isn’t a decision that can be made lightly, or without the Hippocratic Oath – it’s very easy to make things worse, especially with a highly-strung species. I didn’t want to spook him into leaping a fence that he couldn’t manage, getting his legs tangled or broken, but leaving him trapped there wasn’t an option either.
Leaving Khamsin with someone else on the road, I scrambled warily into the field, keeping as far away from the young deer as possible. He stilled his pacing and stared wide-eyed at me.
Half way down the fence was a loose section. I tugged it free to create a deer-sized gap – but more hooves kicked ahead of me. Suddenly I realised that the doe had been quietly watching her lost fawn all this time from the other side of the fence, hoping in vain that he would join her.
He bolted away from me, full stretch, like the chinkara gazelle in India. He bounded around the entire circumference of the field, reappearing on my left, and then – a gap! He squeezed through the fence, and dashed after mother.
Hopefully next time he will follow her lead more carefully.