Fraser Darling’s deer studies

herd of red deer fraser

Fraser Darling’s study of the red deer population of Dundonnell, in Wester Ross between 1935 and 1959, gave a detailed picture of the reproduction, social behaviour and habitat of deer. His book “A Herd of Red Deer” transformed modern ethology and revolutionised the way that British wildlife was studied.

Describing the role of barefoot walking in Darling’s deer research, Robert Macfarlane writes in “The Old Ways”:

Darling’s unconventional methods: instead of considering the deer as reflex creatures, displaying learnt but versatile reactions to their environment, he proposed a dynamic model of the herd in which each deer’s sensed experience of its landscape shiftingly informed their way of living. Darling’s contention, in short, was that deer ‘were capable of insight’, and his insight into their insight emerged from his decision to go sympathetically barefoot.