Country diary: the annual deer count has us on the hills before dawn

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Quantock Hills, Somerset: Looking primarily for red deer, I was so focused on scanning the distance that I almost missed three hinds just metres away

The skylarks rose with the sun over the Quantocks, pouring their song into the north wind sweeping in from the Bristol Channel. I was there just before dawn for the annual spring deer count. Volunteers spent two hours recording the number, species, location and type of deer seen across the area.

We were primarily looking for red deer (Cervus elaphus), the largest of the six deer species living wild in Britain. Herds of 60 or more are not uncommon and I was hoping to see a big group. But the cold had pushed them to shelter out of sight in the wooded combes.

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