The deer park in Todds Valley 1910-1916


When settlers arrived in Nelson in 1841 there were no animals or familiar game birds available as a source of food.  Some animals and plants were introduced in a random way in the early days. This changed in 1863 with the establishment of the Nelson Acclimatisation Society, empowered by the Protection of Certain Animals Act 1861.  The Society worked to introduce, what they considered, useful flora and fauna and to protect and help the survival of those species. Some new arrivals failed, whilst others thrived.  One of the species which had a strong survival rate was deer.

Deer. Male stagRed Deer stag
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In 1854 the first Red deer stag to be sent to New Zealand arrived in Nelson. This was released, as it had no surviving hind to breed with until 1861, when a stag and two hinds arrived. These were gifted by Lord Petre from his deer park at Thorndon Hall in Essex. These animals were also released.

Deer quickly increased in numbers from 1863 and were a great attraction for locals to watch as they were often close to town. In 1872 poaching of deer started, when a 300 pound stag was dramatically killed. A call for managed legal shooting led to the sale of hunting licences in 1882 by the Society. Honorary rangers assisted a paid ranger to keep a watch on deer populations and hunters. 

Deer. Bush deer huntingBush, deer hunting. View of three men in a country area with a horse and cart, dogs and guns. The cart is loaded with deer heads, antlers and skins. Tyree Studio Collection/Nelson Provincial Museum Permanent Collection
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Inbreeding from the limited gene pool of animals led to some deformities in the animals, so in 1905 it was decided by the Nelson Acclimatisation Society to improve deer stock by some controlled breeding. One official deer holding compound was the deer park built in 1910 at Todd’s Valley, on land leased from Henry Wastney. The safe and attractive 3.5 acre block, surrounded by wire netting and posts nine feet high, had well established native trees and a small stream. 

Deer. Nelson acclimatisation society tagDeer tag. Licensed deer stalkers had to tie a tag on any deer that they shot. A licence to sell venison cost £5. Fish & Game New Zealand
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The Society imported three stags from one of the most famous deer parks in England at this time, Warnham Court.  These arrived in 1911 and joined other deer stock from around Nelson held in the park. The plan was for progeny bred here to be dispersed to other areas in New Zealand and then released in the Nelson area.  The project was not particularly successful, as one of the prize stags managed to kill himself trying to jump the fence.  Lack of female stock to breed with was also a problem. In May 1916 the Todd Valley deer park was closed down and the land handed back to Mr Wastney. 

Free roaming deer from Nelson began multiplying in enormous numbers and could soon be found in just about any hill area in the province spreading to Marlborough, north Canterbury and the West coast.  From 1913 orchardists were very unhappy about damage from deer to their crops.  From the 1920s there was great conflict between conservationists and deer hunters as to the merits of deer and the appropriateness of deer control and management.  By the 1960s deer began to be controlled by helicopters, and were also domesticated and farmed. Debate over deer management in the wild continues today.

2013(updated March 2024)

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Further sources - The deer park in Todds Valley 1910-1916



  • Clarke, C.M.H. (1976) Eruption, deterioration and decline of the Nelson Red Deer herd.  New Zealand Journal of Forestry Science, 5(3): pp.235-249
    [Article (pdf file, 4.7 MB)]

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