There was the romantic notion that if a deer managed to escape and get beyond the deer leap then it was free from its hunters.
The deer leap, or freeboard, of Richmond Park is a strip of Crown-owned land, one rod wide (5 metres), which runs around most of the perimeter of the park. Its function is to allow access to the outside of the boundary wall.
Richmond Park, the largest of London’s Royal Parks covering 2500 acres, was created for King Charles I in 1634 as his hunting park for deer. In 1637, the King had a brick wall built to enclose the deer while allowing public access. Today, the wall, which stretches to 6.3 miles long, not only encloses the 600 red and fallow deer but also prevents access during the cull.
It’s 5pm. The sun has already set and it’s dark. The park lies under a blanket of cloud, bathed in a surreal orange glow from the lights of London.
Houses glow alive on the outside of the boundary wall while the dimly lit park on the inside feels foreboding under the knowledge of the impending cull.
My senses seem heightened and I feel a stronger connection to nature. I can smell the pungent aroma of deer before I see them – black silhouettes grazing around me. They are fearless of my presence but I am cautious and respectful of theirs. I start to notice detail in the darkness. A fox passes nimbly along the wall. It clocks me and scarpers.
Time passes quickly. It’s time to leave. I retrace my steps along the trail and out of the park before the gates are locked for the cull.
On this night, the boundary wall divides life from death, humans from animals respectively.