Identification

There are three species of deer most commonly seen in gardens around the UK: muntjac, roe and fallow deer. Muntjac were introduced into the UK in the late 19th century, fallow deer were introduced by the Normans in the 11th century, and roe deer are native to the UK.

Muntjac deer  (Muntiacus reevesi)

Small and stocky with a reddish coat which turns grey-brown in winter. The have a characteristic rounded or 'hunched' back, and large scent glands below the eye.

Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus)

Relatively small , with a red coat and grey face in summer, and a pale brown, grey or occasionally black coat in the winter. They have small tails and white rumps, and males have antlers, which are shed in the autumn or winter and reappear with a velvety covering each year.

Fallow deer (Dama dama)

Bigger than roe deer with a distinctive black stripe running down the length of its back, and a long tail. The deer display a variety of coat colours, ranging from red, brown and black, and even pure white coats, often with white spots on the back during summer, giving the well known 'Bambi' appearance. Males have impressive antlers which can grow up to 70cm in height.

During the mating season (rut) bucks fight and display and often groan tremendously. Does with fawns will give a short bark when they are alarmed.

Size (height at shoulder).

As with many species, males are larger than females. The figures below relate to the entire range of sizes from small female to large male.

Muntjac

4 -52cm (17-21in)

Roe

58-75cm (23-30in)

Fallow

73-94cm (29-38in)

Distribution

Muntjac

Widely distributed in England, with some records from north Wales. Numbers are currently increasing rapidly.

Roe

This species is native to Scotland but was reintroduced to the rest of Great Britain during the 19th century after it became extinct in the 18th century. Today the roe deer occurs throughout Scotland, and has a wide distribution in England with the exception of east Kent and the Midlands. In Wales they are fairly rare, and they are absent from Northern Ireland.

Fallow

They are now widespread throughout much of England and Wales, and also occur in some areas of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Status

None of the three species of deer profiled here are under threat. Muntjac breed all year and are increasing year on year. All species cause damage to woodland and agricultural land (particularly Roe and Fallow deer) and are therefore considered pests and subject to control measures. Fallow deer are a protected game species which means that a licence is required to hunt them. All three species are at risk from road deaths.

Habitat preference

Muntjac are very secretive, and tend to inhabit dense scrub and woodland, and also quiet or overgrown gardens. They are fairly versatile with regards to habitat, and this has helped them to colonise diverse areas, including Salisbury Plain, which consists of open grassland and scrub.

Fallow deer inhabit mature deciduous and mixed woodland with dense undergrowth. They also occur in marshes, meadows, and mature conifer plantations and are often seen on agricultural land. They can also be seen in large gardens with good cover.

Roe deer typically occur in open, deciduous, mixed or coniferous woodlands. They also inhabit moorland, and large gardens in rural or suburban areas.

Where to find them in the garden

One sign of Muntjac in your garden is discovery of a “lying up” spot (where they lie down to graze) - usually a sheltered spot in the sun where the grasses appear crushed and a few hairs are sometimes found. Quiet gardens with shrubs and trees, particularly ones with plants they eat such as bramble and ivy.

Gardens which border woodland or agricultural land are likely to see fallow deer as these are their preferred feeding habitats.

Roe deer are most likely to be seen in larger gardens which contain trees for shelter and, often, food.

Role in the garden

Muntjac are active throughout the day and night, with peaks of activity at dawn and dusk. They feed on bramble, ferns, ivy, grasses and tree shoots, and unfortunately have a likeness for plants with a high conservation status such as bluebells and primulas, thus causing serious conflict in conservation areas.

Fallow deer graze on grasses and rushes, but may also browse on herbs, young leaves, young deciduous shoots, and also take cereals, berries and acorns . Trees and dwarf shrub shoots will be taken during autumn and winter.

Roe deer have a broad diet, which varies depending on the time of year, and includes the leaves of deciduous shrubs and trees, cereals, weeds, acorns, fungi, conifers and ferns.

Deer do not tend to have any natural predators anymore since the loss of wild wolves in the UK. Foxes however predate young fawns, and humans are their main predator through hunting.

Deer do not tend to rely on gardens for food unless they are in more urbanised areas. However, they may choose to nibble at garden plants and coppice shoots should they be in the area! Overall, deer can have a negative impact on gardens due to their destructive nibbling of garden plants and tree shoots, however they are a delight to see, and some simple fencing can prevent them from nibbling plants that you do not want eaten.