CHARD united last week to pay tribute to Mike Gage - the ‘deer whisperer’ - who passed away recently.

Dozens of people gathered in the town centre to pay tribute to Mr Gage, founder of the South West Deer Rescue Centre.

And applause broke out as the funeral cortege passed through, as people celebrated a life well lived.

Beloved ‘deer whisperer’ Mr Gage spent the last 13 years caring for hundreds of animals in South Somerset.

His South West Deer Rescue Centre has seen thousands of visitors over the last few years, as well as being the subject of a feature on BBC’s Countryfile.

Earlier this year, Mr Gage and his volunteers launched a fundraising campaign to cover the cost of caring for the 130 deer based at the Crewkerne, and saw more than £3,000 donated to the cause.

Shortly after though, they were told he would have to move on from the site that his deer had called home for more than a decade.

The team offered to refund everyone their donations, and instead saw the cash collection rise to £4,140 - with past visitors desperate to see the project saved.

It is now understood the deer have found a new home.

Mr Gage has starred in the Chard & Ilminster News a number of times of over the past few years.

On January 24, 2018, he even graced the front cover as the paper was taken on a tour of the deer sanctuary in advance of the site starring on BBC’s Countryfile.

Then, Mr Gage told us that his involvement in deer dated back more than 40 years, including looking after deer and taking them to work as a plasterer and working at a nature park in Tiverton.

He said: “My interest in deer first began when I was working down in Exmoor.

“On my drive home I saw some in a field, so went home and got my camera in order to take some pictures of them.

“I found I could get really close without disturbing them.

“I’ve since spent so much time with the creatures I can tell what they’re feeling.”

It was this close knowledge of his animals that saw Mike dubbed ‘the deer whisperer’ in the News.

There were five species - fallow, muntjacs, sika, axis, and red deer - and the site was run entirely by donations.

One of the volunteers, Ken Kneil, added: “Mike set up the fences and everything with his pension pot, and then other parts like the sheds were donated by local companies.

“Mike knows every one of the deer by name and all their families.

“His knowledge is absolutely amazing. What he doesn’t know about deer you could fit on a postage stamp.”

Mike’s family announced on the deer sanctuary’s Facebook page that Mike had died on October 19.

The post drew hundreds of responses from those paying their respects and tributes to the deer whisperer.

The family’s statement said: “It is with great sadness that we have to let you know that Mike passed away.

“We would like to thank all the volunteers for their loyalty and hard work over the years.

“We would also like to thank all of you that have visited and made donations.

“Without you all it would not have been possible and you are all part of South West Deer.”