Country diary: wandering deer share our self-isolation enclave

Deer roam through the garden most nights, leaving their prints and grazing choice leaves of daylilies, Hemerocallis, among swathes of poisonous monkshood. The first sighting was at dusk, when two bounded downhill through shadowy fruit trees, white rumps prominent in the fading light. More recently, woken at dawn by the sound of a cock pheasant’s crowing call and vigorous wing flapping, I look down on three roe, wandering beneath the fading blooms of magnolia before heading towards dense cover in the Radland valley.

This morning, in broad daylight, when the excitable songs of summer-visiting chiffchaff and blackcap outdo those of resident birds whose earlier chorus has subsided, two emboldened deer stroll nearby; they skirt the fruit cage, pass under clusters of blossom on the Burcombe cherry and tread daintily among cowslips and false oxlips, seeded from plugs planted in the grass 15 years ago.

During these strange days we are privileged to live in this cherished enclave of orchard, regenerating woodland and ever wilder garden; in the quietness of self-isolation, we are acutely aware of the creatures that share this haven. Warmth and sunshine bring out holly blue, brimstone and orange-tip butterflies; buzzards glide above the tallest leafing trees and draw attention to flowering oaks, only slightly earlier than the ash. Fortunately, we can nurture a patch of winter-planted brassica, lettuce and spinach in the tunnel, protected from the nibbling rabbits that wreak much damage to old hedge banks along narrow lanes, where the burrowed, loosened earth slumps to the footings before erosion by the next bout of heavy rain.

Across the hedge to the north, a neighbouring farmer’s 11 rams have been moved off the tight-grazed, hard ground to fresh land. Lengthening grass gleams on the southern skyline where fields are shut in preparation for the first silage cut. Nearer, on the opposite side of the little tributary that flows towards the Tamar, South Devon yearlings spread across their summer pastures and the farmer’s butchery reports ever-increasing demand for this home-produced meat. Come evening, a group of these handsome reddish-brown cattle gathers for a last warm-up around the trunk of a huge oak, temporarily side-lit by the setting sun.

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