Ru­dolph in Lake­land

Lancashire Life - - This Month - WORDS: Louise Bryn­ing PHO­TO­GRAPHS: Milton Ha­worth

Not all rein­deer will be pulling sleighs this month. This herd will be busy in the fields near Cart­mel

This is a busy time for rein­deer, but far away from the fes­tive hus­tle and bus­tle, Ru­dolph, Vixen and Bl­itzen are liv­ing the dream.

This trio won’t be seen pulling Santa’s sleigh – their task is to graze the land at Preda­tor Ex­pe­ri­ence, an eco-tourism busi­ness at Ay­side near Cart­mel.

‘We wanted an al­ter­na­tive graz­ing an­i­mal,’ ex­plained Dee Ash­man who runs the vis­i­tor at­trac­tion with her hus­band, Daniel.

‘Al­though we are not by any means anti-farm­ing, we are an­ti­in­ten­sive farm­ing. We ad­vo­cate more tra­di­tional meth­ods of tend­ing to the land be­cause it’s more con­ducive to a healthy eco struc­ture. And be­lieve it or not, rein­deer were ac­tu­ally native to Lake­land at the time of the Vik­ings so be­ing able to bring back a ‘lost’ species was ap­peal­ing to us, even if it’s in a more con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment than a re­lease pro­gramme, which wouldn’t be suit­able in the Lake District now.’

The rein­deer are also kind on the land as their long snow shoe hoof span makes lit­tle im­pact on grass­land, keep­ing the land tidy for vis­i­tors to Preda­tor Ex­pe­ri­ence.

‘All of our ex­pe­ri­ences are geared around the nat­u­ral world, the con­cept of evo­lu­tion, bio­di­ver­sity, and healthy ecostruc­tures, so Christ­mas ac­tiv­i­ties aren’t part of our pol­icy,’ said Dee.

‘The rein­deer have ac­cess to a very large area and have a highly con­tented life with us, and guests are al­ways sur­prised and fas­ci­nated to see them all year round when they ar­rive for an ex­pe­ri­ence.’

How­ever, the Ash­mans haven’t com­pletely ruled out in­tro­duc­ing a rein­deer ex­pe­ri­ence in the fu­ture. ‘We have of­ten dis­cussed it, par­tic­u­larly as they are so pop­u­lar with our guests who can see them wan­der­ing around and are al­ways curious. But if we do, the fo­cus won’t be on Christ­mas, it will be on the role of graz­ers, how they in­flu­ence land­scapes, and the evo­lu­tion and in­cred­i­ble phys­i­ol­ogy of rein­deer,’ said Dee.

‘Rein­deer are very adapt­able and de­velop cop­ing mech­a­nisms for the wild. In the win­ter, their hooves go hard and grow a blade for dig­ging in icy snow.’

They can also use their legs as ther­mostats and can lower the tem­per­a­ture in them to keep their bod­ies warm. But global warm­ing is a prob­lem for rein­deer.

Their num­bers are de­creas­ing and they are on the world’s ‘vul­ner­a­ble species’ list. As milder tem­per­a­tures bring more rain, the snow gets wet­ter and leaves a thick layer of ice which makes dig­ging for food dif­fi­cult.

ABOVE: Dee and Daniel Ash­man with a year­ling BE­LOW: Rein­deer are built for cold, harsh con­di­tions

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