It is a bright, balmy early summer’s day in Knole Park near Sevenoaks. The 1,000 acre park not only contains the great house of the Sackville family, but one of the few remaining medieval deer parks in England where both fallow and sika varieties roam freely.
I spot a buck that has been separated from the rest of its herd. It does not appear overly discomfited by the human crowds. I edge towards it in pursuit of a close-up photograph as it watches me intently. But then I discover that we are not alone.
A young girl, maybe four or five years old, in a polka dot dress is approaching it, equally cautiously, from a different angle, proffering a packet of crisps (potato chips). Understandably, the deer’s gaze turns to her intriguing gift.
There are signs scattered around the park urging the human visitors not to feed the animal residents. I call across to the girl to remind her that she must not feed the deer. She cannot understand why animals wouldn’t also enjoy crisps, and I try to explain the reasoning for the ruling, namely that they have their own dietary needs which are different from humans, and eating food designed for the latter might upset the delicate balance of their constitution and make them dependent upon visitors and, potentially, lead to conflict between man and beast.
The girl continues to look unconvinced whilst the buck’s increasing agitation suggests that he would welcome us coming to a mutually agreed solution sometime soon. In response to her insistence that crisps could not possibly be harmful, I repeat my arguments.
After politely and patiently listening to this silly man’s sensible but boring explanation, she pauses and then delivers the clinching argument:
“But they are cheese and onion”.
I haven’t the heart to look back to see whether the deer prefers salt and vinegar or prawn cocktail.
But at least I got my photo.