A single barks rips out from along the hills

Darkness is coming down, but by degrees so infinitesimal and slow that eye and brain cannot measure its descent. Minute by minute, light drains from the wood. Yet still I can see, and if the deer move at all, this is the time at which they will come.

Perched on a high seat 15 feet off the ground, my back against an ash trunk, I have a panoramic view. Across my knees lies a .243 rifle, for I am trying to cull muntjac, or barking deer - the strange little creatures of Asiatic origin which have colonised much of the south of England.

Recent felling of fir has left this part of the forest pleasantly open. Visibility is good, but colours are fading: green of fir branches, russet of dead bracken, ochre of forest floor - all are turning to the "sober livery" of Milton's "twilight gray". While day clings on, I try again to memorise particular lumps: the single rock, the fallen tree trunk, the twisted elder that looks like a deer's head. These are my markers.

Earlier in the afternoon the wind blew viciously from the east; but now it has died, and in the stillness every sound rings out. Away to my left front a blackbird is mobbing something - probably an owl, for the call is the high, hysterical chatter aimed at airborne enemies, rather than the low tuk, tuk reserved for predators on the ground.

Movement is what I am looking for. With trees and plants motionless, any movement will take my eye. There - a pigeon sweeps in to roost, landing with a clatter of wings, while a grey squirrel out on some late errand flips along the springy upper branches of a larch.

To sit here in the wood is immensely therapeutic. My eyes and ears are on full alert, but my mind, lulled by the silence, winds down and reaches out across time. Perhaps 10,000 years have passed since the glaciers of the last ice age pulled back and carved this hill into its present form. Across my front, 50 yards out, run the ruins of an old stone wall. Old maps show the land beyond it as a field: now a dense mass of scrub and young trees covers it. It is from that thicket that I hope the muntjac will emerge.

These barking deer are relative newcomers on the scene. Their ancestors were imported by the eighth Duke of Bedford for his park at Woburn in 1894; but because they did not flourish in captivity, they were released into the wild, and their descendants have spread all over. Another immigrant, still less welcome, is the grey squirrel, brought over from North America in about 1860, and now the greatest menace to forestry in the kingdom.

Who can say what this hilltop will be like a hundred, two hundred, ten thousand years from now? With the onset of night comes a sense of human fallibility, of the transient nature of life on earth.

The day is nearly gone. Binoculars still bring objects into bold relief, but the telescopic sight on the rifle gathers light less efficiently, and I can hardly see the cross-hairs. To the naked eye, outlines are becoming blurred: my markers have lost their shapes and are merging into the background.

Then, at last, a definite movement at ground level. Some dark object is coming from right to left, along the line of the ancient wall. Up with the glasses. A fox, framed at one end by its creamy throat, at the other by the white tip of its brush. I watch it pause to sniff a low branch. Then, silent as a shadow, it passes on its way.

A tawny owl hoots. It is time to go. As I reach the foot of the tree, a single bark rips out from along the hill - a muntjac's alarm call or territorial challenge. Ten seconds later another bark echoes into the dark. The animal is too far off to have heard or scented me: it must be feuding with a rival. Nevertheless, I cannot help feeling that its harsh outburst incorporates a message for me as well - meaning, as it does, "Get lost!"

Suggested Topics
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Java Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

SAP Functional Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £45,000 - £55,000.

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Functional ...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn