TwigLog 3 – by Peter Frost Pennington

Wow – what a week that was! Many high points and one or two lows.

The main news is – Twiggy is doing really well. Leaps and bounds in fact, so much so it is hard to keep up with her at times. She is now 2 weeks old and weighs in at 3.4Kg. Her birth weight was just over 1.8Kg and we are pleased that she is growing steadily.

After her first 3 days of living in the Castle kitchen she has been outside in an enclosure every day and in a little hutch from dusk to dawn until 2 days ago when we left her outside overnight for the first time. The glorious weather has helped; strangely for us living in the Lake District she has yet to experience even a small shower of rain in her first two weeks; I’m sure she’ll enjoy plenty of it in the weeks and months to come! I must say after such a horribly long, cold and wet winter the weather has been superb for our Muncaster Festival and holiday week. It has been wonderful to see so many visitors from near and far enjoying the sunshine along with all of the other delights at Muncaster.

We have had some excellent advice from a lovely lady called Emily at the RSPCA West Hatch Wildlife Centre near Taunton in Somerset who has raised a number of orphaned roe deer fawns over the years and her experience and advice has been very helpful to us. We are closely following her suggested feeding regimes and protocols.

Which means we have been able to reduce from the 5 or 6 daily feeds initially to 4 at the end of week one and from Sunday 5th June we have reduced to 3 feeds a day. Much easier! Of course she gets bigger quantities at each feed to compensate. This means we can get to bed at normal times again…hurrah!

Twiggy roe deer fawn Muncaster Castle

Once the visitors have vanished for the day and the gardens return to peace and tranquillity Twiggy is let out of her spacious shady pen into a much larger enclosure and she enjoys a short walk with us in the gardens late in the evening and her final feed for the day. Each morning she gets a longer walk either in the woods or on the wildflower meadow…sometimes both. It is lovely to see her starting to browse in earnest now, nibbling at various plants she meets along the way. We hope to train her to specialise in brambles which always grow with vigour at Muncaster but no doubt, as she can be quite contrariwise at times, she will pick only on the garden plants and exasperate our small but dedicated gardening team.

However, the biggest low we had with her this week was on Sunday. Day 13. Iona had gone to let our dogs out and walk them elsewhere so it was entirely my fault. Twiggy is truly superb at hide and seek and on the way back from her morning walk, as we were crossing the front Castle lawns, I took my eyes off her for less than 10 seconds and lost her! I spent the next hour searching every tussock, every bush, every nook and cranny within 100 yards of where I had last seen her to no avail. I now know every shrub on first name terms and even found some places I didn’t know existed.

Nevertheless, we were not too worried. In falconry terms she was “fed up” with a full belly of milk and instinctively knew to hunker down and hide for the day, especially as it was so hot and sunny. Roe deer prefer to be active between dusk and dawn.

So we gave up the search as the gardens opened to the public and were soon busily involved with our normal day to day activities. I must admit I strayed back once or twice to the area just to check she hadn’t popped out anywhere but Iona was very calm and confident that she would come looking for us when hungry enough.

Sure enough, all was well. After the visitors faded away around 5pm I started looking for her again, using my roe deer calling whistle. I walked around in ever widening circles from the point I had last seen her. Within 20 minutes, while struggling through some particularly thick undergrowth populated mainly by brambles and nettles, I was suddenly aware of a little head popping up a few yards away. What a relief! She was soon back in her enclosure, suckling greedily on a bottle of milk.

Painting of Twiggy by Sharon Arrowsmith.

Twiggy roe deer fawn Muncaster

Model of Twiggy with her milk bottle by Eve McMullan aged 7.

In a way this is marvellous as it shows she is exhibiting exactly the kind of wild behaviour we want her to display. She didn’t latch on to other people in the gardens but just lay low until “mum” came back for her. However, when we take her for walks outside of her enclosure we watch her much more carefully now! She can run fast now and can still disappear in a flash so if anyone is feeling generous and wishes to sponsor some kind of GPS or radio tracking system we would be delighted. It would make walks slightly less worrying for me if not for Twiggy.

Please note, these are exceptional circumstances with Twiggy and we had no choice since her mother was no more. I would just like to emphasise correct behaviour when meeting apparently “abandoned” young wildlife in the woods or wherever at this time of year. PLEASE LEAVE THEM ALONE. Well intentioned people will often pick up the little fawn or the fluffy owl chick they find on a walk and take it home. DON’T! Touching them is also a bad idea as mum won’t like your human scent on her offspring. Please leave them to take their chances in the wild. Their mother will not be far away and will probably be watching you from cover. There is a risk but let nature be nature and the chances are that mum will come back for the youngster, but only after you have long gone. Small fluffy owls are remarkably good at climbing and may get back to the nest themselves and if not mum & dad will almost certainly continue to feed them where they are. Certainly mark the spot well and come back quietly and carefully in 12 or 24 hours and if the animal is still alone or looking distressed, don’t pick them up but call an expert for advice, probably your local wildlife centre or the RSPCA. There is some excellent advice regarding roe deer in particular if you follow this link from Emily at the RSPCA.

Lastly, after becoming a media star in the local TV, radio and papers, news agencies around the world have been asking for pictures of Twiggy…so who knows where you may find her image appearing. I’m told she made the evening papers on the London Metro last night. Fame rests lightly on Twiggy; she takes it all in her ever lengthening stride.