Richmond Park covers an area of 2,500 acres in the centre of London. It’s one of eight Royal Parks and was created in the 17th Century by Charles I when he set up court in Richmond Palace to escape the plague in the city. Today, most of the park is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and provides a colourful habitat for a variety of wildlife including red and fallow deer. The park has a number of decaying trees that support the elusive stag beetle as well as jays, parakeets, and woodpeckers. It also has fenced off ornamental areas which are full of beautiful flowers, and ponds home to cormorants and herons.
Between September and November each year the deer can be seen rutting. In this natural spectacle, the males compete for females by locking horns, covering themselves in leaves, and bellowing. We observed one chasing a dog that got a bit too close (the dog escaped unharmed). WildSide recommends preparing a hot thermos flask of tea and getting up around 3 hours after dawn or before dusk to catch the action, from a safe distance of course. Nothing compares to seeing the stags’ breath as they roar in the misty autumnal morning! It really is an amazing break from the city. There are even some great places where you can look at huge deer rutting against a backdrop of high-rise buildings!
Average rating: 4.3 (very good)
Average cost: free!
Best time to visit: year-round. The deer rut is between September – November, with October being the peak. Young deer are born between May – July.
How to get there: the park website sets out the many ways to get there by public transport, although there are also car parks for those travelling by car. The park is accessible via several train stations including Mortlake and Richmond. Many buses serve the park and it has good bicycle access. There is a free, wheelchair accessible bus service that runs through the park on Wednesdays from March until October.
Typical activities: animal watching, bird watching, walking
Number of reports: 9
Last update: 2021
WILDLIFE IN Richmond Park
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
RED DEER – 100% OF VISITORS (9/9) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Richmond Park is home to around 300 red deer. These are larger than the fallow deer also found in the park. They are impressive, majestic creatures, which almost feel out of place so close to the city. They can be found all over the park, but they tend to stay away from car parks and other busy areas. Between September and November, the rut occurs and can be quite fierce as the stags lock horns to best rivals and establish themselves a harem of bucks. You are recommended to keep your distance from the testosterone pumped stags at this time – apparently they forget to eat or sleep so no wonder they are grouchy!
FALLOW DEER – 89% OF VISITORS (8/9) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Fallow deer are beautiful, ghostly creatures. They can be distinguished from the red deer of the park as they are smaller and paler, sometimes with mottled, patterned sides. The bucks have broader, flatter antlers. The fallow deer rut is slightly different from the red deer and usually involves a gentler parallel parade with the occasional antler clash.
Fallow deer can be found all over the park. There are around 315 of them so you have a good chance of catching sight of one if you roam around the park for a while. While you can get close as the deer here are accustomed to humans, it’s still a good idea to take binoculars. This means you can avoid getting too close to disturb them, especially during the rut or birthing seasons.
Eurasian jay – 22% OF VISITORS (2/9) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Jays are beautifully coloured members of the crow family. They are easily recognised by the brilliant blue feathers on their wings. Unlike crows and magpies, they are shy birds. So look out for a flash of white and blue and a screaming call as they fly between the trees. The best time to see them is Autumn when they move about the trees looking for food. During this time they are easy to spot hunting for acorns which they store in their favourite hiding places to provide a source of food for Winter. They live in both coniferous and deciduous woodland, especially where there are oak trees. Richmond Park has a lot of large oak trees, making it a great place to spot (or more likely hear) jays.
great cormorant – 11% OF VISITORS (1/9) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Great cormorants are usually found around the UK’s rocky coastline. However, they are becoming more common on lakes and rivers inland, especially in winter. They can be found along the Thames and reasonably regularly at Richmond Park – particularly at the Pen Ponds. Cormorants were first recorded breeding in the park in 2019. They are around the size of a goose with large bodies and long necks. Adults are black, with white on their faces and thighs, while juveniles are usually dark brown with pale underparts.
GREEN WOODPECKER – 33% OF VISITORS (3/9) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
A total of 144 species of bird have been recorded in Richmond Park in the last ten years. Generally, if you are interested in bird spotting the Pen Ponds in the park are a go-to destination! The noisiest birds by far are the ring-necked parakeets, which career around and squawk loudly. The green woodpecker is more difficult to hear (and see) than those birds. In fact, all three species of native woodpecker can be found in the park. To find green woodpeckers, listen out for their distinctive ‘yaffle’ call. Although they nest in tree holes, they can be seen hopping around on the grass looking for ants and other invertebrates – so watch your step!
Grey heron – 11% OF VISITORS (1/9) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Grey herons are large, unmistakeably graceful birds with long slender necks and legs. They are wetland birds and are commonly found in the watercourses in and around London. They overwinter in the UK so you can spot them year-round. Herons are most often seen stood as still as statues in the shallower edges of lakes or ponds, patiently waiting for their next meal to swim by. In Richmond Park, grey herons are year-round residents that breed at the Pen Ponds in a small heronry.
ring necked parakeet – 44% OF VISITORS (4/9) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
One bird you’re pretty likely to see in the park is the ring necked parakeet. These are noisy, raucous, squawking creatures. And they aren’t shy! It’s pretty rare to visit without seeing or hearing these colourful characters. They are called ‘ring necks’ as the adults have a dark circle around the backs of their necks. Parakeets are perfectly at home in Richmond as there are lots of old trees with holes to nest in. There are various stories about how they ended up in England, but they seem to quite like it here, even though their native range is tropical!
Photo credit: WildSide team member Rob Morris