Deer are currently enjoying a population boom in Britain. In years gone by, they were found mainly in rural areas and places such as estates and parks, where they were managed. Today, they have even been spotted wandering around city centres!
They have been sighted in urban areas since the 1970s and are often found in people’s gardens – the main reason for this is that the deer population is currently at its highest since around the eleventh century and they are searching for food.
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An estimated two million deer inhabit Britain and they have been seen living in London, Glasgow and Sheffield. Sightings have become so commonplace in people’s gardens that at the beginning of 2019, the Royal Horticultural Society issued guidance for gardeners on deer-proofing their outdoor spaces.
One key reason is because predators such as wolves, bears and lynx have become extinct. Other factors that have aided deer and other wild animals include milder winters and changes in agricultural methods, such as planting winter crops.
Six species of deer live wild in the UK, in all types of environments!
As the UK’s largest land mammal, the male red deer can reach a height of 137 cm at the shoulder, while the female can grow to 122 cm tall. The male, known as a stag, can weigh up to 190 kg. It is a native species that is easily recognisable by its reddish-brown summer coat. In winter, the coat becomes thicker and changes colour to greyish-brown.
The majority of the UK’s red deer population lives in Scotland, although there is a population of more than 500 in Cornwall, mainly concentrated in the east of the county.
The UK’s second native species, the roe deer is easily recognised by its small antlers. Fully-grown male roe deer, known as bucks, have three-point antlers. The female is distinguished by its tail-like tufty hair on its rump in winter.
The species became extinct in many parts of the UK, except for the Scottish Highlands, in the 18th century due to over-hunting. In the 19th century, they were reintroduced in Dorset and Sussex. Today, they can be found in various parts of Cornwall, where there are an estimated 1,300 roe deer. They mainly live in the centre and east of the county, although more recently, they have also spread into the west.
The fallow deer has various coat colours, with the most common being white-spotted brown fur. They can also have various shades of light-coloured fur, mainly with white spots. They are the only species which have palmate or palm-like antlers.
Having been present in Britain since the eleventh century, they were brought over by the Normans, mainly for hunting, but also for ornamental purposes. The medium-sized deer can be found in woodland areas and in deer parks across the UK.
There are a few scattered populations of fallow deer across Cornwall, often centred around old deer parks. A survey, carried out by Richard Carew in 1602, lists several Cornish deer parks, many of which were subsequently restocked with cattle. Small herds of fallow deer can still be found around these old parks, including at Werrington, near Launceston.
Fallow deer bones were found around Launceston Castle – evidence of venison being favoured by the nobility in years gone by.
There are two different types of muntjac deer in Britain – the Reeves and the Indian. As the smallest deer in the UK, they stand at between 0.44 and 0.52 metres tall at the shoulder – only slightly larger than a Labrador dog. They originated in China and were brought over to Woburn Park, in Bedfordshire, in 1838. They have now spread across the UK.
Common in south-east England, unlike other deer such as the red deer, which lives in single-sex herds, the muntjacs live in family groups. The older fawns have to leave to start their own group when a new fawn is born.
Reeves’ muntjacs are Cornwall’s smallest deer, although they are still rare in the county, with only 37 confirmed sightings in the past two decades. One was seen in the Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s garden, outside the office in Truro.
The sika deer has a reddish-brown coat with white spots in summer. It changes to dark grey and sometimes even black in winter. The medium-size deer can swim very well and has been known to swim up to 12 km. They can also produce unusual sounds, such as groans and whistles.
The sika deer was brought to Britain from Japan in 1860, when it arrived on Brownsea Island in Dorset. Individuals escaped and the species quickly spread through Britain. Other variants of the species were brought from different parts of Asia. They can now be found in parkland and estates across Britain.
Chinese water deer
The species is slightly bigger than the muntjac and is sometimes likened to a teddy bear in appearance, thanks to its big, rounded ears. The male Chinese water deer doesn’t have antlers, but rather tusks instead, which they use as a weapon. The females have smaller, less prominent tusks.
Generally solitary animals, except during the breeding season when they may form small groups, they live near water – hence their name.
Scientists at Sheffield Hallam University have been studying Britain’s deer population since the 1980s. They believe urban deer are becoming more prevalent because of the amount of food on offer. The possibilities are endless for a deer gaining access to an allotment and can be described as “easy pickings”. The destruction of urban woodlands to make way for housing estates has led deer to move from the suburbs into the town centres.
Their diet includes fruit, vegetables, grass, flowers, twigs, nuts, alfalfa and corn, and researchers describe fruit as being “like candy” for them – their favourite foods include strawberries, beans, peas and lettuce. They particularly enjoy planted crops, because they are similar to the grass plants that make up a big part of their diet.
If you fancy a spot of deer watching, MA Grigg’s country store stocks a wide range of high quality, branded clothing, ideal for country walks.