Sabretooth of the Marshes

Everywhere in England is unlike everywhere else. That’s a gift in part from our absurdly complicated geology, crafted further by six millennia of rural activity. But even in a land of difference, the East Anglian peninsula stands out: sprawling, soaked, sandy and spacious.

Strumpshaw 15 Oct 20

Acle rainbow

Its heart is routinely under water. East of Norwich, a spider’s web of rivers and channels wind through reedbeds – windmills started turning there when Henry III was on the throne, but alder and willow have had wet feet for longer, and it is in their company that you might spot something very odd. Who left these lethal daggers in the marsh?

Chinese water deer tusk

Or tusks, technically. Their owner is not a big cat, although it’s easy to imagine hikers stumbling across one of these monstrous canines and fearing that Norfolk is home to a relic population of cave lions. They actually belong to a rather cuddly-looking deer.

Water deer1 15 Oct 20

Water deer are England’s mystery mammals. Few people have heard of them, and they’re not easy to approach. 

Water deer2 15 Oct 20

This is a heavy crop, but you can just see the tusks.

Water deer3 15 Oct 20

They have humans in their history. We only have two surviving native deer – the red and the roe. Water deer hail from China and Korea, but have been present in the UK for a century or so. While releasing non-native species into a different ecosystem half way across the globe is generally a very bad idea, not so in this case. Water deer are now vulnerable in their homeland, so the British population is important to their survival. Unlike introduced sika deer, they do not cause any ecological problems in the UK.

And they keep wading through the reedbeds, learning the marshes, watching their neighbours go about their own business.

Grey heron 15 Oct 20

And the skies keep tripping over themselves.

Hickling Broad

21 thoughts on “Sabretooth of the Marshes

    1. The Broads are one of our most famous wildlife areas for good reason, but their beauty and atmosphere are unique too. And the weather. The good thing is that that the skies are so big that at least you have a bit of warning before the rain rolls in!

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    1. I think most British people don’t know that they’re here! They’re only found in marshy regions in the east, and are quite good at hiding themselves in the tall reeds.

      Thanks! Hope all’s well with you and yours.

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    1. I still miss Opera 😦 Yes, I did do a post on that tusk when I was first given it. It seems strange that it’s so many years later that I’ve finally got a photo of a water deer itself.

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    1. Water deer do resemble muntjac, but are considered unique enough to be in a family all their own. Muntjac were also introduced to the eastern UK and unlike water deer, have spread widely and become very common. They’re hardly bigger than border collies and make strange barks at night.

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  1. Indeed they are cuddly looking deer – and the tusks are surprising, all the better to chomp on reeds and the like? What an interesting network of ancient wetlands it must be. Your photos are great, and I particularly like the photo of the heron.

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    1. They use their tusks like other deer use antlers – namely for battling over the females! I was given the one in the photo by a warden some years ago and it’s always fun to show it to people when I’m giving mammal talks.

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  2. Considering their difficulty to approach and apparent mysterious nature you’ve done well with these shots, Adele. With those tusks they look a bit vampirish. 🙂 They also remind me of an experience in my young life. As a child I sucked two of my fingers rather than my thumb and that caused my lower jaw to project. A dentist fashioned a couple of chrome plated tooth extensions or fangs for my two front teeth which, of course, projected down upon my lip and chin much like these deer. Eventually my folks abandoned the project for fear of my losing my permanent teeth permanently. Underbiters unite!!! 🙂 The one you are holding does look like a saber tooth’s fang.

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    1. Wow, that is a unique memory!

      They do look rather vampirish, and it’s always fun to show the tusk to people. We did have one sabre-tooth felid in Britain back in the day, or to be more precise the scimitar-toothed cat Homotherium. I wonder how it would have reacted to meeting a deer with fangs of its own!

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