A bag of dung proves a roaring success: Deer were eating the garden. So Harry Pugh called on the big cats

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Our friends were envious when we moved to a cottage in the Herefordshire countryside, especially when we told them that deer regularly visited our garden. Such pretty creatures, with the young ones in spotted Bambi livery, peeping shyly out from among the trees and leaping fences with an effortless bound.

But my feelings towards them changed radically when I tried to plant an orchard and found six new apple trees chewed to the ground. Now my preferred view of a deer would be down the sight of a high-powered rifle.

Short of surrounding our garden with electrified fencing and turning our home into a stalag, we've tried all sorts of suggestions to keep them out. Barbed wire, bags of human hair draped from trees, rags dipped in a foxy-smelling liquid called Reynardine. Still the deer came, always choosing the most expensive and exquisite new plants for their breakfast.

Sometimes the only evidence of their raids, usually at night, was newly nibbled shoots. Sometimes we found droppings, or hoofmarks. Often we saw the culprits. I have parted the bedroom curtains and counted as many as eight shadowy shapes in the thin dawn light.

If our garden was ever to be presentable, something would have to be done. Then my wife came up with an idea. She had heard claims in a radio programme that an effective anti-deer deterrent was the dung of the King of the Jungle, the lion.

I could not see how, or why. I am quite sure none of our local deer has encountered anything more ferocious than domestic cats. So why should the smell of some foreign beast from faraway places scare them off?

Full of doubt but driven by desperation, I set off for the West Midlands Safari Park at Bewdley, near Kidderminster. The chief warden, Bob Lawrence, had saved for me the weekend's output of his 39 lions and tigers - a bulging plastic carrier-bag containing about 28lb of the stuff.

Mr Lawrence told me that he gets many requests for lion dung, which he gives freely to gardeners plagued by deer. To prove to me that it worked, he carried out an experiment. The deer herd at the park normally trot up eagerly when their food is spread out. Mr Lawrence placed bags of dung in front of the strewn-out forage, and the deer stopped in their tracks.

Why? Deer in this country have not been hunted by big cats for many thousands of years. Bob Lawrence thinks that it would have been way back before the Ice Age that the paths of their ancestors last crossed. 'Perhaps an alarm bell in the distant memory is triggered off by the smell,' he said.

As I left, carrying my precious bag, he warned: 'It's got a powerful pong that really does make your eyes water. You don't want to get it on your shoe and tread it indoors, or you'll be in real trouble.'

I spread it in a line between the woods and my garden. My own cat took a keen interest, but did not seem unduly disturbed. But the deer, who had been visited us at least twice a week, have never once crossed that line. That was six weeks ago, during a cold spell, when the lack of foliage in the woods would normally encourage them to wander into the garden.

So is the lion dung a roaring success? Perhaps it is still too soon to say. Maybe the April rains will wash away the lingering scent. But at least it has given our budding plants a temporary respite from the deer. And if more dung is needed, there are 39 lions and tigers at Bewdley who can supply replacement material.

(Photograph omitted)

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