The Great British Deer

Deer have been around for more than 3 million years with more than 60 species around the world today. Several of those species have been native to these lands during that period. The infamous road runners and farmer’s pests are also majestic ancient animals.

Modern Britain

There is 6 different species of the deer in total that currently call Great Britain their home. The natives, the red & the roe deer, have been in Scotland for more than 2 million years. The Fallow deer is part-native species- introduced by the Romans for hunting purposes more than one thousand years ago. As for the other three – the Sika, the Chinese Water, and the Reeves Muntjac, they were all introduced from Asia in the late 19th/early 20th century. The famous Reindeer and Moose was roaming these lands long before us, long before any humans.

The extinction of deer species (and many other animals) in England & Wales comes from the lack of spare land there, particularly England who expanded greatly in population during the 19th century, though obviously cant expand the lands so many animals natural habitats were subsequently destroyed. So today there is not much place for them to live in the mass there- outside of Bedfordshire (who are probably on a par with the highlands when it comes to deer), there is generally only scattered herds of deer. Many deer, such as the Roe, have hopped down from Scotland and are now continuing to expand as they make their way from England into Wales. There doesn’t really seem to be any kind of explanation as to why native deer have disappeared in Ireland (both Northern and Republic). Maybe killing Deer is where the Irish would get their luck from.

Common Features/Characteristics

With many different species, there will be differences in characteristics but all deer share a few things in common. They are all vegetarian- which means that all deer are not predators. While all deer (expect the moose) are commonly pursued by various animals including wolves, wild dogs, and big cats (and wee cats). The deer, generally, are known as a buck (male), a doe (female) and a fawn (baby)- with a few species sharing the same gender names for cattle (bull, cow, calf). Every male deer has the trademark antlers except the Reindeer, where both male and female have the antlers, and the water deer. These antlers are not just there for show or as weapons either- they have bone and live tissue, which provides a thick protective velvet covering a number of crucial blood cells.

There is always confusion about the antlers with deer often seen without any- that will be after the rutting season. Every year usually between October and November, sometimes right up until the New Deer, all species of deer will enter into the rutting (mating) season. During this period (after about 4 weeks) the deer’s antlers will have fallen completely off. This is due to low levels of testosterone following the mating. When a deer’s testosterone level drops it can cause great weakness in the bone and tissue that are present- particularly at the base of the antlers (called a pedicle)- with this leading to those antlers simply falling off.

They use these antlers to fight for mating rights aswell, and there has been cases where tangled antlers have led to the death of both fighting deer- due to them being unable to feed or drink while tangled.

Deery me… though the tangled deers often end up dying like this (Image courtesy of Unknown)


All Deer are herbivore animals. Many deer have specially adapted stomachs called a rumen. It is a system of stomach compartments where the microorganisms break down a substance known as cellulose- basically meaning the deer can digest their food a second time, making it significantly softer. Deer are either grazers (feeding on small growing grass and plants) or Browsers (feeding on high-growing/long lengthened plants). The types of food of the deer include grass, nuts, twigs, leaves and fruit, while clover, corn and wheat are particular favourites of the road hoppers.

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All deer have a long history of being hunted by humans, dating back to the Mesolithic Period. The meat of the deer provides venison, the skin provides the material for leather, while their antlers produce Deer Velvet (used as medication in large parts of Asia). The laws regarding hunting deer differ greatly from country to country, region to region, province to province, state to state, and none more so than in the case of the UK. In Scotland, the Deer (Scotland) Act 1996 protects/controls deer- the population and the hunting. They dictate ‘hunting seasons’ where it is legal to hunt under strict conditions, outside of these seasons it is illegal to hunt.

Back to the deer production, the venison provides the same type of food as its beef counterpart- sausages, steaks, burgers, mince- and these foods are all round better and more healthier than beef. They contain less fat and less calories, aswell as more vitamins, protein, and iron- and taste better. As for the skin, known as Buckskin, many products are made from it- clothes (famously jackets), accessories (wallets, gloves, belts, bags), aswell as many other items. Many of the big stags are intensely persecuted in parts of the world, they are a bit of a goldmine as their thick skin can be cut into two separate layers. The stags thicker outer layer brings about full-grain leather while their thinner inside layer (which is very difficult to cut) will produce suede, which is a bit more like fabric than leather.

Finally the antlers of the deer are responsible for many of the steroids out on the markets today- the Deer velvet acts as a performance enhancer, and is also used as medicine in China (predominantly for treating physiological disorders). Knifes, handles, lamps, sofas, tables, and wall decor are common utilisation’s of the deer antlers.

Deer have long been hunted by humans for materials, meat, aswell as simple trophy hunting (Image courtesy of

The Brits

Red Deer.
There have been fossil records found that indicate Red Deer are more than 10 million years old, and they have been in Britain since the Stone Age. They were said to be previously twice as large in size, tough remain one of the largest of the deer species, and the largest mammal in the UK. They can found in mountain, forests and woodlands- predominantly in the Scottish Highlands. They scoff on grass, all types of plants, as well as twigs. The Red Deer have many different sub-species including the Caspian Red Deer (the largest) and the Corsican Red Deer (the smallest). The close cousins of the Red Deer, and a recognised subspecies are also featured in the park- the Bukhara Deer, from central Asia. There is generally little to distinguish the red deer and its subspecies except slight changes in size of body and antlers. The can today be found widespread in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, following their disappearance elsewhere.

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Fallow Deer.
Considered to be one of the most beautiful, they are also one of the fastest- reaching speeds of upto 48mph. They are non-native but have been here for more than 1,000 years, having been introduced by the Normans. They were wanted in the lands for royal hunting, and given they travel in herds of upto 150 members strong there shouldn’t have been too much difficulty there. The males will not live much longer than around 8 years in the wold, though this is much higher in parks (where they are the most popular of the deer’s for zookeepers). The traditional stag and Hind names are applied to the male and female, but the young babies ate called an ass. They can today be found widespread throughout south & central England, and Wales. Small numbers can be seen in northern England and Lowland Scotland.

Fallow deer are very popular for zookeepers (Image courtesy of Scottish Deer Centre)

The Moose/Eurasian Elk.
Whatever one you pick, ill go for Moose, it is the largest member of the deer family. There is several million of them across North America & Eurasia. They came to Great Britain during the Ice Age- though died out during the Roman era. They have antlers than grow upto 6 feet and their body can weight upto 1,500 pounds- looking more like a very large horse with antlers. They share their name’s with domestic cattle- with the male moose being a bull, the female a cow, and the babies calves. Like all deer they are vegetarians, though unlike the rest of the family they are not so vulnerable animals and are not the easy meat in the wild. Due to their size they are very rarely targeted by predators, so it tends to be the calves, the elderly, or the sick that are under threat. The main threat for the moose comes from parasites (particularly brain worms). These deer like to swim a lot, but they also graze for food in the water and subsequently can pick up water snails- with these snails carrying brain worms that can cause heavy brain damage in the moose’s. As for the swimming they can regularly be found in the water- usually to cool down, and they can swim up to 6 mph aswell. In what is a very notable difference to the other deer’s, the moose (particularly the male) will tend to be on its own- solitary.

The mammoth beats are amongst the animals top of the food chain (Image courtesy of

Roe Deer.
Native to the UK, the tailless Roe deer is claimed to be Scotland’s largest wild land mammal- but their Red Deer cousins are much bigger. These beauties have been roaming our woodlands and forests since prior to the Mesolithic period, and have even went on adventures down south- where they can be found in abundance in Northern England in particular. They have two small single-pointed antlers- which fall of around late June (far earlier than the rut of the other deer). Two Roe deer will produce litters if upto 4 fawns. The doe’s are rare in that they will delay fertilisation of their egg until January, in order to escape the harsh winter months. They change significantly during the winter/summer months, being brownish red in colour and solitary during the summer, while becoming darker in colour during the winter- aswell as forming small herds during this period. Like several deer’s the Roe deer barks when disturbed and produced a howling-like scream when look for attention from the opposite sex.

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Sika Deer.
Native to Japan and parts of China, the Sika Deer can today be found all over the world- with large numbers in Europe. The name Sika means small deer in Japanese, though with there global expansion they can today come in many different sizes. There are probably the most tamest of the deer species and have often been seen wandering into towns and streets- generally looking for snacks. They used to be very widespread throughout the British Isles, but its a strange one now. They say that the majority of this type of deer, introduced from Japan here in the mid-19th century, came from one stag and his three hinds (females) (the life of a deer eh). This is odd because this Sika deer herd was planted in Ireland (rep of Ireland today) but there is little, if any, Sika deer in Ireland today. They became widespread in the Scottish highlands only for a long spell, though some stranglers have established scattered colonies in the lowlands and northern England. If the theory that the majority of Sika deer in the UK today (around 30,000) comes from this one lucky stag in Ireland is to be believed, then it must simply be, almost exactly like the wildcat, that the Highlands where the only place they were not persecuted.

(Image courtesy of Scottish Deer Centre)

Reeves’s Muntjac.
The Reeves’s Muntjac deer is one of the smallest species of deer, but very large in weight. Its native to China and is highly endangered due to depletion in their natural habitat there. They were subsequently introduced to various countries- including the UK in the 1910s, where it is today found widespread across East England, particularly around the bedfordshire area. They are small and stocky so can be difficult to see- both for us and predators. Like an incest, they have long tongues build to nick leaves of branches when browsing- and that browsing is the predominant feeding habit of the Muntjac- this is also why they are considered a pest animal, as there browsing causes damage to the woodlands and trees, With canine-like teeth and antlers without any branches, they will bark for communication and when distressed and looking to mate. Better known then as the barking deer- the Reeves Muntjac is another prime example of the diversity among the deer species.

(Image courtesy of commons.woikipedia)

Axis Deer.
The axis deer are unique in that there white spots don’t disappear (like other deer species) when they grow older. The spots are very noticeable on their brown-reddish coat and they are subsequently also known as spotted deer, and are thus very recognisable from the other deer. In terms of their behaviour- they travel in herds of around 10-15 and are very sociable withing these herds- though not so sociable with other deer. They are known to hang around at the bottom of monkey trees- and collecting the fruit that falls when the monkeys shake the branches. They are every beautiful. To us anyway… not so beautiful if your a farmer, as they have a bad reputation for ruining crops. The deer live mostly in open habitats and are predominantly found in India and southeast Asia. However, the spotted deer’s were introduced to Texas and Hawaii in the 1930s- and large numbers of them can be found there today.

(Image courtesy of Scottish Deer Centre)

Reindeer. Native to the United States and Canada- they are now most popularly found in the Fennoscandia peninsula of Northern Europe- a place nicknamed Lapland- where Reindeer were introduced back in the 18th century. There is two types of Reindeer, Tundra Reindeer and Forrest Reindeer, and they have incredibly unique features in that their eyes will change colour with the winter/summer season. Blue throughout most of the year, they will turn green in the summer months. They are well known for their travelling, with the average reindeer covering around 3,000 miles every year. This despite the fact that they have a tendon in their foot which cracks off the bone when they are walking- causing fairly loud click noises. They can travel in herds upto 50,000 too so that’s a lot of clicking. It doesn’t hold them back either as they can run upto 47 miles per hour- though its unclear whether they could reach those speeds in the air….

The reindeer, in particular, can look odd without their antlers (above left) (Image courtesy of

Water Deer.
Native to China and Japan, they are the most recognisable of the deer species due to their two huge fangs. Maybe more appropriately named the Sea-Lion Deer. Their character is more like that of a wild dog. They are aggressive, they bark, and the doe’s even produce litters- of upto 7 babies. They are the odd ones out in the deer family in many ways- they live longer in the wild (12years) than they do in captivity (10years), they travel with their immediate families (stag, doe, babies) rather than a herd, and most notably they do not have antlers (at any time). They were established in east England around 60years ago and are in decent numbers there today with 10% of the foreign water deer population being held in England. They are not found anywhere else in the UK.

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Honourable Mentions

The Wapiti Deer

(Image courtesy of Scottish Deer Centre)

Whitetailed Deer

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Mule Deer

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Pudú Deer

The smallest deer in the world (Image courtesy of

Père David’s Deer

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Hog Deer

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They have famously, and repeatedly, escaped persecution across these lands for thousands of years- and survived. They are most likely the oldest surviving animal that isn’t a predator- so the presence of the deer is very much as remarkable as their features. The Great Deer would maybe be a more appropriate and deserving name for these ancient beasts.