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Police and RSPCA investigate discovery of disembowelled muntjac found hanging from tree at historic orchard

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WARNING: This article contains images that some readers might find distressing

The RSPCA and police are investigating after a muntjac deer was found mutilated and hanging from a tree in a scene described by the woman who discovered it as "creepy".

The woman came across the "sickening sight" at around 2.30pm last Tuesday (May 18) as she walked her dog in the grounds of the historic Rivers Heritage Site and Orchard off High Wych Road, Sawbridgeworth.

Rivers Orchard, High Wych. Apple Day. Beautiful day for picking apples. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (47521524)
Rivers Orchard, High Wych. Apple Day. Beautiful day for picking apples. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (47521524)

The dog walker, who declined to be named, said: "The disembowelled muntjac had been hung up very recently... with two bunches of cowslips and bluebells, picked from further up in the orchard, laid on the ground nearby.

"The backside tail end had been neatly cut around and removed. When I checked the front of the deer the same had happened around the genital area.

"The legs were completely intact... no other damage to the animal could be seen, with, bizarrely, two bunches of picked local flowers nearby. Creepy or what?"

The woman said it was the third worrying incident at the orchard in recent weeks, after a masked, naked man was reported to have exposed himself to a woman walking her dog there and a badger's skull was "cleaned and left on show".

The Indie's Nature Notes columnist Jono Forgham initially thought the muntjac could have been killed by a big cat, but believed it might have been startled, jumped and caught its neck in the 'V' of the tree.

He believed a fox might have come along for an "opportunist meal". He added: "A big cat would not leave prey like this for other predators to feed upon. I suspect the flowers were just placed near the carcass by a passing rambler."

Big cats have been reported in the Sawbridgeworth, Hatfield Heath and Hatfield Forest areas. In 2007 a lamb belonging to TV chef Gordon Ramsay was killed while grazing at David Beckham's estate at Rowneybury House, Sawbridgeworth.

The woman who discovered the muntjac informed Sawbridgeworth councillor Eric Buckmaster, who took it down from the tree and placed it in undergrowth. He informed police. He said he had no idea how the muntjac came to be there.

An RSPCA spokesperson said: "This sounds like an incredibly upsetting and distressing discovery and, while this incident hasn't been reported to us, we'd urge anyone with information about what may have happened to contact us on 0300 1234 999 or report it to police on 101.

"While, thankfully, incidents like this are rare, we have sadly investigated similar cases in the past including the death of a pregnant deer who was found in a tree 35 miles away."

The spokesperson was referring to an incident in Elstree in March 2020 when a pregnant muntjac was found hanging from a tree with its legs bound with blue rope.

Muntjac are protected under the Deer Act 1991, which prohibits their killing by certain methods. Deer are also protected by the Hunting Act 2004.

A spokesman for Essex Police said: "Police have been made aware of the discovery of a dead deer hanging from a tree in Sawbridgeworth. This appears to be an isolated incident.

"Enquiries are in hand through the Rural Operational Support Team and anyone with information about this incident is asked to call 101."

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