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All eyes on the stags on the heath

PUBLISHED: 11:23 20 October 2008 | UPDATED: 21:34 05 July 2010

AS the last light of an autumn sunset filters through the leaves, a proud stag struts across the heath and breaks the silence with a guttural bellow.

The impressive male is one of nearly 200 red deer which have gathered to compete for mating rights in the annual rut at Westleton Heath in north Suffolk.

AS the last light of an autumn sunset filters through the leaves, a proud stag struts across the heath and breaks the silence with a guttural bellow.

The impressive male is one of nearly 200 red deer which have gathered to compete for mating rights in the annual rut at Westleton Heath in north Suffolk.

This autumn is the first time that the RSPB has hosted an organised deer rutting event so that the public can come and see the herd roaming freely around the nature reserve at Minsmere.

Red deer are the largest native land mammals in the UK and the massive stags call back and forth across the heath to let the others know that they are ready to mate and to fight.

The stags can weigh up to 250kg at the start of the rut, which used to begin at the first frost but is often now much earlier, and become considerably lighter after spending most of the two month mating season patrolling a circle of ground around their females and barely eating.

Kitty Brayne>, one of the RSPB's project managers for the east of England, said that the echoing calls allow the stags to size each other up.

“They have to try to defend their harem, which can include 20 or 25 hinds - sometimes even as many as 40. They roar so that other males nearby can hear how big and strong they are.

“If two males are evenly matched, they can clash. A large stag's antlers are made of about 6kg of bone so they try to avoid fighting at all costs.”

The rut provides a perfect opportunity to see the deer at their best and the short gorse on the heath makes them easily visible with binoculars from the special viewing platform which has been cleared for the public.

Ian Barthorpe, the RSPB's marketing and publicity officer for the Suffolk Coast, said: “One of the biggest surprises for me has been the number of people who have never seed a deer before. The sight of massive stags is often associated with the Scottish Highlands, many people don't even know they are native to this part of East Anglia.”

The viewpoint will be open daily from October 25 to November 2, from 3pm to dusk. RSPB staff and volunteers will be on hand and telescopes and binoculars will be available. For more information, call the reserve on 01728 648281.

To get to the event, leave the A12 at Blythburgh. At Westleton, turn left on to the Dunwich Road. Drive straight on and the RSPB's trailer is on the right hand side with car parking further up on the left.

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