The fallow deer is a medium- sized deer. A mature male, or buck, is up to 1 m at the shoulder and weighs up to 70 kg. They are distinguished from red deer by the shorter muzzle and
smaller ears and by the distinctive white rump surrounded by an inverted black horseshoe bisected by a relatively long tail with a black central stripe. Coat colour is very variable - in the summer most are chestnut brown with white spots but they
can vary from white, through fawn, to black. In some herds melanistic (black) individuals can outnumber normally coloured animals. In the winter the coat is grey-brown with fewer
spots. The buck’s antlers are ‘palmate’: flattened and expanded in the upper parts, and increasing in size with age to a maximum at about 6 years. Fallow deer are usually herd
animals and often associated with old deer parks, the groups usually moving in single file.
© David Groves
© Jenny Hobday
Fallow deer droppings are similar to, but smaller than, those of red deer: 10-15 mm long and 8-10 mm wide. In the winter droppings consist of individual pellets, but in the summer they tend to be clumped. Tracks, or slots, are 50-80 mm long and 35-50 mm wide, narrower and more pointed than those of red deer. Fallow deer may damage trees and shrubs by thrashing their antlers during cleaning and the rut, and also during feeding, but this can be confused.
Field surveys for tracks and signs. Records from deer managers and hunters and traffic casualty reports. Incidental sightings from walkers and gardeners.
The 150-200,000 fallow deer in the UK might be described as feral, in that they were originally strongly associated with parkland and estates, and even wild populations often appear ‘hefted’ to their original areas. Fallow deer prefer open-gladed deciduous woodland but also occur in coniferous forest, they tend to avoid young plantations. A predominantly grazing animal, fallow deer eat a wide variety of plants and fruits as well as grasses. Analysis of the stomach contents of New Forest fallow deer revealed the remains of over 110 different plant species.
The social structure of fallow deer is variable, depending on population density. Outside the rut, at high densities they form separate herds of males, and females with young. At lower densities mixed sex groups occur. The deer cover ranges of up to 100 ha but they are not territorial. In the autumn bachelor herds break up and males compete for the attention of females (does). Rutting often occurs in defined areas, or leks, where the bucks display their antlers, walk in parallel to their opponent, and groan or roar. Fighting occurs mainly between bucks of similar size and although deaths and injuries may occur, the flat antlers of the fallow deer limit this. Single fawns are born in May or June and mature at 2 years.
Adults may survive for up to 16 years in the wild. Adult deer have no natural predators in the UK, although foxes may kill fawns, most deaths occur as a result of poor weather, old age or road accidents. Fallow deer are hunted for venison and to control numbers where local impacts on forestry, agriculture, or ground flora are significant.
© David Groves
Richard Carew, in his 1602 Survey of Cornwall, lists many deer parks that were ‘disparked’ since the time of Henry VIII, often to be restocked with cattle. Some herds of fallow deer are still associated with these old parks, such as Werrington
near Launceston. Many fallow deer bones were found during excavations at Launceston castle, evidence of high status residents or visitors, as venison was reserved for nobility.
Did you know?:
Fallow deer were native to the UK before the last ice age but current stocks were probably introduced by the Normans for hunting and decorative purposes. Each buck has a instinctive voice and patterns of groans that identify him during the rut.
Fallow deer occur across Cornwall in scattered populations, often centred on old deer parks. This is reflected across the UK where many herds remain in the areas of the deer parks from which they escaped or were released. Fallow deer probably originate from the area around modern Turkey and Iran but spread into the Mediterranean during the neolithic era. They were introduced into the Britain by the Normans to populate their deer parks.
Fallow deer are not regarded as being under threat and are actively controlled in many areas. Most fallow deer in the UK occur south of the Scottish borders. All deer are protected under the Deer Act, 1991, which defines open seasons and specifies the means that can be used to kill deer.