Deer heard will not be culled, pledge

By James MortlockAN ANIMAL lover who has tended a herd of deer for a decade has vowed they will not be culled when their enclosure is scrapped by the National Trust.

By James Mortlock

AN ANIMAL lover who has tended a herd of deer for a decade has vowed they will not be culled when their enclosure is scrapped by the National Trust.

Elizabeth Blake's late husband, Ray, set up the 120-strong herd of deer at Ickworth Park, near Bury St Edmunds, with his friend, John Hargreaves, in the mid-1980s.

Since his death in 1994, his widow and Mr Hargreaves have lovingly looked after the herd, which is one of the major attractions at the historic park and popular with thousands of visitors.

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However, the pair have decided to retire and the National Trust – which owns the park and the historic ancestral home of the Marques of Bristol, Ickworth House – said it would be too expensive to keep the deer enclosure open.

The trust said it was trying to find new homes for the herd – which includes the indigenous fallow deer as well as Japanese sika and Indian axis – but warned some could be culled.

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However, Mrs Blake, who will continue running the enclosure with Mr Hargreaves for the next three years, insisted she would find someone to take on the herd and was adamant there will be no major cull.

She said there had been an annual cull as part of the management of a herd of livestock in an enclosure, with the money made from venison going to help feed the remaining animals throughout the year.

However, Mrs Blake stressed: "The herd won't be culled – it's not going to happen, I'm determined of that. It's going to be run down slowly over a period of time and we will rehome as many as possible.

"We don't want the general public to be thinking they are going to be culled because it's not going to happen. We've just started putting the word about that the enclosure will close."

Mrs Blake said her husband would have been "astonished" to find she had kept the herd going for 10 years and added: "I think he would have expected it to close when he died, but John and I decided to carry on.

"The deer are beautiful animals. They're not easy animals to handle because they're wild, but they are beautiful and people love to see them.

"Ray had been fascinated by deer for years and it all came about when we read an article in the East Anglian Daily Times in 1984 in which the trust were appealing for ideas to attract people to the park."

Mrs Blake said the enclosure idea had snowballed from there and had become a reality two years later, with her husband and Mr Hargreaves feeding the deer, keeping an eye on their health and making sure the enclosure was secure.

She added the deer had given her and her husband a great deal of pleasure, but she and Mr Hargreaves had decided it was now time to call time on their "365-day-a-year" hobby.

"We are saddened, but we have come to point in our lives where we are reaching retirement age," said Mrs Blake.

"But we will run the enclosure down slowly – it's not something which is going to happen overnight. We don't want anyone to panic and think all the deer are going to be gone in a few months."

A spokeswoman for the National Trust said without the voluntary help of the pair, the deer enclosure would be too expensive to run. She stressed the matter had been given a lot of thought, but a financial decision had had to be made.

Wild deer would remain a feature of the park and the general public would still catch glimpses of the animal roaming the estate, she stressed, adding the trust would try to help find a new home for the enclosure herd.

But Kathy Macklin, of Ipswich Animal Rights, said the idea the National Trust could not afford the deer was "absurd".

She added: "It has well over three million members, which makes it the biggest conservation group in Europe, which means they aren't very hard up."

Mrs Macklin said the deer were one of the main attractions at Ickworth Park and added: "They advertise these nature rambles, so culling them is not going to go down very well and if they cull any of them, there will be a public outcry.

"I'm sure they could rehome some and, failing that, they could release some in small groups to local woodlands."

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