Magazine article Geographical

The Enchanted Forest: Of Britain's 15 National Parks, the New Forest Is Probably the One Most Synonymous with Images of Autumn. Home to Some of the Country's Most Extensive Areas of Broadleaf Deciduous Trees, as Well as Open Heathland, Wild Ponies and Five Species of Deer, This Rural Retreat Is a Favourite Haunt of Photographers, Says Keith Wilson

Magazine article Geographical

The Enchanted Forest: Of Britain's 15 National Parks, the New Forest Is Probably the One Most Synonymous with Images of Autumn. Home to Some of the Country's Most Extensive Areas of Broadleaf Deciduous Trees, as Well as Open Heathland, Wild Ponies and Five Species of Deer, This Rural Retreat Is a Favourite Haunt of Photographers, Says Keith Wilson

Article excerpt

Covering an area of 570 square kilometres, the New Forest is the country's second smallest national park, but with more than 15 million annual visitors, it is one of the most popular, no doubt due to its proximity to Greater London - less than two hour's drive away.

Despite its name, the New Forest is steeped in ancient history, colonised by the Anglo Saxons and later becoming the favoured hunting ground of the royals after the Norman Conquest of 1066. William the Conqueror displaced many of the forest settlers by razing around 30 hamlets and farmsteads to the ground in order to create his new' royal hunting ground.

The forest clearly meant a great deal to the first Norman king. It was the only forest - Novesta Foresta - described in great detail in the Domesday Book of 1086. Legend states that William's act of evicting the forest parishioners cursed him, and the subsequent death of two of his sons in hunting accidents in the forest only added to the folklore. One of those sons was his successor, William II, also known as William Rufus. He was killed in August 1100 when an arrow, fired by one of his men at a stag, glanced off an oak. Today, the Rufus Stone marks the spot where he fell and remains one of the most photographed sites within the forest.

HAVEN FOR DEER

Today, the deer of the New Forest enjoy a less harried existence amongst the leafy glades, bracken and heath. In all, five of the UK's six species of deer can be found here: the native roe and red deer, the spotted fallow deer (believed to have been introduced by the Normans in the 11th century), and two exotics - sika and muntjac - introduced from Asia in the mid-19th and early 20th centuries respectively.

With up to 2,000 individuals, fallow deer are the most common and easily spotted throughout the forest. For many photographers their familiar white spotted flanks and light tan coat also make them the most attractive. They are also the only deer in Britain with palmate antlers - so-called because of their hand-like spread with the points (spellers) extending like fingers from a palm.

Red deer are the largest to be found, but with fewer than 300 individuals they aren't easy to spot, although the areas around Brockenhurst and Burley are favoured locations. If sika deer are your objective, the largest populations are known to roam near Beaulieu.

Even harder to find are Britain's other native, the shy and skittish roe deer. Although plentiful in number, their smaller size and preference for hiding in dense, bracken-strewn woodland means they are rarely spotted in broad daylight. Like the tiny muntjac, the best chance of seeing one is when they emerge into the open at dusk to forage.

STALKING AND RUTTING

Whichever species of deer you chance upon in the forest, a long telephoto or zoom lens is necessary to ensure your subject is large enough in the frame from a safe distance. Fallow deer are the most comfortable with humans, but even they will move away if you approach noisily or are too close. Try to approach downwind from the herd as this will keep your scent away.

Carrying a tripod while stalking is not an easy undertaking, and no matter how quickly you can set up, there is always the possibility of the deer moving from their position or taking flight. A monopod is less of a handful and provides extra stability, but many photographers still prefer to handhold their cameras for speed and convenience. If so, you must set a fast enough shutter speed to counteract lateral movements and vibrations resulting from handholding the camera. Activating the vibration reduction system (should the lens have it), will also improve the chances of sharply focused, shake-free images.

The autumn months present another issue for photographers stalking deer. This is the rutting season and October is the peak month. At this time of year, mature males (stags) are highly charged with testosterone, bellowing frequently and entangling their antlers in the undergrowth as they seek to round up harems of females (hinds). …

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