Wildlife protected by the Hunting Act: Deer
The two main species of deer that are often hunted, but are protected by the Hunting Act are our native Red Deer and Roe Deer.
Red Deer and Roe Deer Facts
Red Deer are dark russet-brown in colour, with a paler buff rump patch and a pale tail. Look out for herds of large, sturdy deer with branching antlers.
Our largest deer, males have large, branching antlers, increasing in size as they get older.
A Red Deer can live up to 20 years, but few deer actually live longer than 16 years.
Roe Deer are our most common native deer. They are slender, medium-sized deer with short antlers and no tail. Roe Deer are mostly brown in colour, turning reddish in the summer and darker grey in the winter. They have a paler, buff patch around the rump.
Roe Deer tend to be solitary in summer, but can form small, loose groups in winter. The males have relatively short antlers, typically with six points. They begin to grow their antlers in November, shedding the velvet from them in the spring. By Summer, they are ready for the rutting season. After mating, they shed their antlers in October and begin to grow a new set.
A Roe Deer has an average lifespan of 6 to 7 years, but they can live up to 16 years in the wild.
There are four other British species of ‘exotic’ deer, with the Fallow Deer almost certainly brought to this country by the Normans, and three Asiatic species, Reeve’s Muntjac, Chinese Water Deer and Sika Deer, escaping or being deliberately released from Deer Parks and private collections.
Habitat and Range
- Red Deer are Common in Scotland. They are also found in the Lake District, Exmoor, the New Forest, East Anglia and Thetford Forest in; farmland, grassland, heathland, upland and woodland – particularly moorland and mountainside.
- Roe Deer are found in Scotland and Northern England in areas of mixed countryside; with farmland, grassland, heathland and woodland. Scarce in Wales, the Midlands and southern England. Absent from Northern Ireland.
- Red Deer can be seen in deer parks throughout the country.
Diet and Feeding
- Grasses, sedges and rushes comprise the bulk of the Red Deer’s summer diet, with dwarf-shrubs such as heather and blaeberry being more important in winter. Young trees are also browsed.
- A Roe Deer’s diet is varied and includes buds and leaves of deciduous trees and shrubs, bramble, rose, ivy, herbs, conifers, ferns, heather and grasses.
- Red Deer mating takes place from the end of September to November. This time is known as “the rut”, where mature stags, 5-6 years old, leave bachelor groups to seek out hinds at traditional rutting sites. Stags attempt to defend groups of 10-15 hinds (exceptionally up to 70) in an attempt to prevent mating by other stags, engaging in roaring “contests”, which may escalate to include parallel walking and locking of their sharp antlers.
- Following the rut, Red Deer stags and hinds typically segregate again. Calves (usually one, very rarely twins) produced as a consequence of the autumn matings are born from mid-May, with a peak of births in the 1st or 2nd week of June. Red Deer calves are usually weaned by 8 months old, by which time they have moulted out of their spotted natal coat.
- The Roe Deer breeding season, also known as “the rut”, is earlier from mid-July to the end of August. During this time males also become very aggressive in defending their territories. They fight other males by locking antlers and pushing and twisting. Fighting may cause injuries and occasionally one or both may die.
- Although the Roe Deer’s egg is fertilised at the time of mating it does not begin to develop inside the female’s uterus until several months later, in early January. The roe deer is the only hoofed animal in which delayed implantation
occurs. Females give birth, usually to twins, but sometimes to single kids or triplets, between mid-May and mid-June. The young suckle within a few hours of birth. They are regularly left alone, lying still amongst vegetation. Their coat, dappled for about the first six weeks, helps to camouflage them. If there are twins they are left separately.
Status and Threats
- Red Deer range and numbers were greatly reduced in historic times, becoming extinct in much of England, Wales and the Scottish Lowlands by the end of the 18th century. There have been subsequent increases in numbers associated
with the development of deer stalking as sport, under-culling of females, and colonisation of forestry plantations.
- Cross-breeding with Sika Deer is thought to pose a threat to our native Red Deer. But Red Deer in excessive numbers can cause damage to natural vegetation and prevent woodland regeneration by eating young shoots and leaves from newly-coppiced or growing trees. The Wildlife Trusts are working hard to restore our native woodlands.
- Roe Deer are not considered to be rare in the UK, but the habitats that they favour are declining – our grasslands, field margins and woodlands are all under threat. Encouraging farmers and landowners to have a wildlife-friendly approach, The Wildlife Trusts are working towards a Living Landscape: a network of habitats and wildlife corridors across town and country, which are good for both wildlife and people.
- It is critical that a few mature males from any herd are left protected from hunters who want to kill these magnificent animals for nothing other than to have as a trophy.
Conservation Status and Public Opinion on Deer Hunting
Red Deer are common and are an important source of food (in the form of live prey or as carrion) for animals including golden eagle, buzzard, badger, pine marten and fox. Also, through browsing, Red Deer influence vegetation composition and structure. In some areas of Scotland, the density of Red Deer is such that regeneration of native woodland has been prevented and higher culling rates occur.
Roe Deer are the UK’s most common native deer. They have been hunted since prehistoric times. They became extinct in England, Wales and southern Scotland during the 18th century and populations were re-introduced to southern England (Dorset) and East Anglia in the 19th century. As they have become more abundant, they have been treated as “vermin” because of damage to forestry, agriculture and horticulture, and consequently numbers are controlled. Roe deer may now number as many as 500,000, and are increasing. Since the 1970s there has been an increased interest in exploitation of roe as a game species and for meat. As a result they are now covered by various Acts of Parliament which impose close seasons (when deer may not be hunted), firearms restrictions and controls on poaching.
Hunting deer, stag and most wild mammals with dogs is illegal in the UK on animal welfare grounds.
Deer are a much loved British wild animal, and their general illusiveness in the wild adds to their mystery and allure. However, many people also enjoying visiting deer parks throughout the country where large herds can be enjoyed.
Information provided by the The Mammal Society and The Wildlife Trusts
Reporting Wildlife Crime
The best way to report deer and stag hunting including suspicious hunting behaviour is to call the Police Wildlife Crimeline on 101.
Further Reading & Useful Links
Species Fact Sheet: Red Deer (Cervas elaphus)
Species Fact Sheet: Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)
Red Deer Habitats and How to Identify
Roe Deer Habitats and How to Identify
Birders Against Wildlife Crime: Deer Hunting