A council boss has said Richmond Park is “not a petting zoo” after members of the public have been caught feeding and stroking deer.

It comes as Royal Parks Police officers took to Twitter to warn park users for getting too close to deer and encouraging their children to feed them and breaking branches off protected trees – breaching park rules.

The deer have been branded as “dangerous animals” and are not there for park users to “shove half a loaf of Hovis down their face” according to Richmond’s council leader.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Richmond Council leader Gareth Roberts, said: “The public think deer roaming wild in the park is some sort of petting zoo and of course it’s not. These are large, wild and dangerous animals.

“These are not cuddly, tame animals which are there for [the public] to rip branches off trees or to shove half a loaf of Hovis down their face.”

Cllr Roberts explained that it has been happening for years and some deer have become acclimatised to the public.

He continued: “All it takes is for a dog to come along and there’s a small child standing in a herd of deer and the deer will take off. They’ll just stampede and trample people.

“It’s very difficult to know what to do about it because the Royal Parks Police can’t be there all the time and the park rangers can’t be.

“You will see people feeding the deer or petting the deer standing right next to a sign which says ‘do not feed the deer, do not pet the deer’.

“They are weapons, they are there to protect themselves and they are not there to be nice and cuddly and form a backdrop for a selfie.”

Royal Parks Police said: “Officers at Richmond Park have been speaking to park users who have been getting far too close to deer and encouraging their children to feed the deer by breaking branches of protected trees.

“This is not only very dangerous, but breaches the Park Regulations.”

Richmond Council said it is happy to work with Royal Parks Police to combat the petting problem.