I live pretty close to Woburn Abbey, and the surrounding Woburn Deer Park is my favourite local spot to spend time outside.
OVERVIEW OF WOBURN DEER PARK
The house and grounds are owned by the Bedford estate, and open to visitors all year round. It seems to be a popular tourist spot, hosting the Abbey, gardens, tea room, and antiques centre. The surrounding deer have a huge and varied landscape to roam, and each part provides a slightly different habitat. At 3,000 acres, there’s plenty of space for the deer, as well as lots of other wildlife. The estate is criss-crossed with public footpaths, which you should respectfully to stick to, providing several miles of walking. Most connect with other walks in the area such as the Greensand Ridge.
Woburn is home to 9 species of deer, but I tend to look for the red deer:
The red deer (Cervus elaphus) are the largest wild animal in Britain. They’re an iconic native species, frequently used to represent British wildlife in general, and I think their postures are particularly photogenic. The Woburn deer also have the largest antlers of any UK population, which makes them both unique and even more spectacular.
For the photo above, I was crouching in a dip for quite a while, watching a few deer and waiting for the moment to press the shutter. I have, in the past, been asked how I managed to get them to pose like this. Of course, I didn’t – It’s just a matter of patience and good fortune. Before the centre stag moved into view, I took a couple of shots of the two either side, which made an interesting composition on their own. When the larger stag moved in from the right, I couldn’t believe my luck as he briefly stopped to look at me. It was a rare moment when I knew I’d got a shot I was happy with even as I clicked the shutter.
I was up at sunrise for the following photo, also of Red Deer:
This is another great example of the variation in habitat at Woburn Deer Park. I really like to find compositions which include the ferns, and other natural features which frame the animals in their environment.
Knowing the site and the deer as I do now has also given me great potential for close-ups and abstracts, which are possible with some patient stalking. The set of Red Deer on White below have proven to be some of my most popular photos…
This Sika deer (Cervus nippon) is a similar species to red deer. Not native to Britain, but now increasing in wild populations around the country. I took the opportunity to expose for the sky here, and silhouette the deer against the blue…
The park isn’t just home to the managed deer population. I also see little owls, green woodpeckers, foxes, squirrels (both grey and black varieties), red kites, buzzards, swans, geese, ducks, & herons. And if that’s not enough, you can also frequently hear lions roaring from the adjacent safari park!
This is a grey squirrel I photographed while laying in the snow. I was wet and cold, but it was great to get to watch them go about collecting the very acorns I’d watched them bury in the autumn.
For me, Woburn is a place I can go for peace and quiet. Bedfordshire isn’t a hugely populated county, but there are few places you can visit and truly feel like you could be miles from anywhere. There are popular spots, and tourist honey-pots, but there are also quieter areas with woods and trees, offering near silence and great potential for wildlife encounters.
You can see my collection of deer photography here, which is mostly from Woburn. I have a few of these prints up at home myself, and I’m sure I’ll continue to add to that in the future.