IN the depths of Epping Forest away from prying eyes lies one of the district's best-kept secrets.

The City of London's Deer Sanctuary, in Theydon Bois, which is home to around 140 black fallow deer, is due to enter the spotlight as the subject of a new BBC2 documentary.

Constructed in 1959 when 120 acres of land was fenced off, the sanctuary offers a safe place to graze for the forest's deer.

Forest keeper Michael Collins, 48, has been in charge of the grounds for 17 years.

He said: “There were concerns about the number of deer being knocked down by cars in the 50s. The number of deer in the area went down and down and the sightings were fewer and fewer.

“The Conservators decided they needed to do something especially as the deer are the only animals specifically mentioned in the Epping Forest Act that need to be protected.”

In the new documentary, to be shown on Wednesday, February 10 at 8pm, author Robert MacFarlane explores the sanctuary during the mating season and discusses the idea of wildlife living so close to London and the M25.

Michael said: “They asked me a few questions on the phone about what they were looking for and I believed we could supply that.

“In here, because you've got the confines of the area, you've got more chance of getting the right shots. They wanted a specific shot of a very high quality so it took a long time. To get it in the wild would have been a nightmare.

“The deer here can be filmed in a semi-natural state. In some places they've got too much of a park, or it's too wild. Here we try to keep a balance.”

Although much of Epping Forest has been cut back over the last few centuries, the deer sanctuary remains as a place of tranquillity and unspoiled natural beauty.

“If you come here it's one of those places not affected by humans,” said Michael. “You can come in here, you can see foxes playing about, you can see the buzzards on the fields. You don't get that unless you've got no disturbance from people.”

Weekend group visits to the Deer Sanctuary can be arranged by calling The Epping Forest Visitor Centre on 020 8508 0028.