Rudolph in Lakeland
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