Lowland heathland is a rare and threatened habitat occurring on acidic, impoverished, dry sandy or wet peaty soils, and is characterised by the presence of a range of dwarf-shrubs. These include various types of heather and gorse, as well as bilberry/bleberry, cowberry and crowberry. This habitat is also home to a variety of fauna, including roe deer. It’s sharp decline over the last 200 years makes it a priority for nature conservation
Terry, my deer mentor, who I wrote about in my last blog, and I had spent a lot of time trying to find a suitable location in previous years. Heather wasn’t a problem. But a site holding a good population of roe was. In 2013 I had spent most of the summer working at a private site in the heart Wareham Forest with permission kindly provided by the forestry commission with very little to show for it.
In one of the last conversations I had with Terry when he was in hospital I told him I was going to have another go at getting images of roe in heather and share them with him. Terry sadly passed before I was able to make make good on that promise.
In the weeks that followed, as I struggled to come to terms with Terry’s passing I found comfort and solace amongst the wild beauty of the heather lands at a new site I had identified in Dorset which had potential close to where I grew up.
Driven by grief I have probably never worked harder on anything in my life in terms of creative endeavour. I know I walked an average of 10 to 15 miles a day in search of roe deer with heavy camera gear slung across my shoulders. It was tough going with 3am starts to get to the site and late finishes getting home at close to midnight. The Roe rut is like that. I was so determined though to achieve the images I wanted in Terry’s memory it hardly registered.
Putting into practice the wealth of skills and fieldcraft Terry had passed on to me over the years, I was fortunate enough to have a number of wonderful encounters over the next few weeks, involving a variety of different deer from big mature bucks (beasts as Terry used to call them) to little yearlings. The selection of images below represent some of my own personal highlights from the project.
After weeks of blood sweat and tears though the does eluded me. I was fast running out of time as the heather was starting to go over leaving just a few purple patches in those areas of the heath that received less direct sunlight. I decided to call it a day until next year. On the last night though I thought I would try one last time for a shot of a mature buck I had encountered at the start of the project.
I set myself up just as Terry had taught me and waited…and waited. Nothing. The light had much gone and I was pretty much ready to call it a day when I saw movement out of my peripheral vision. A beautiful adult female doe, no doubt the dominant female in the territory walking past me through the heather. In that moment I felt Terry’s presence and voice very clearly and knew what to do (and perhaps more importantly what not to do to mess up!).
The next shot is the resulting image and the final one of my summer project. Taken at 1/25 second by some small miracle it is sharp.
As I walked out of the heath in the pitch dark for the final time, listening to the sounds of the night, I smiled to myself at the thought of my magical encounter and my spirits started to lift a little for the first time in weeks. I knew Terry would have been proud and would always be there with me when I am out with the roe.
This blog is dedicated to Terry, a celebration of a life well lived, filled with strength, beauty and vibrant colour. Just like his beloved roe standing among the flowering heather.