The UK’s largest land mammal, an adult male red deer (stag or hart) can be 1.4 m at the shoulder and weigh 250 kg. English animals are generally larger, with those on the Scottish hills weighing only 100 kg. The coat is reddish-brown in the summer, turning grey-brown in the winter, with a paler belly. The rump is buff coloured, with a short, dark tail. Calves, but not adults, may have white flecks on their flanks. The head appears large and long with big, mobile, ears. The adult male develops a mane of long brown hair during the rutting season. He also bears antlers which are shed each spring and regrow
each year, increasing in size and complexity as the animal ages. Deer were formerly known as harts and the White Hart refers to a white red deer stag. Red deer generally live in herds: females and young, and separate groups of adult males, which may include up to 100 animals in open country, but 5-10
is more usual locally. During the autumn rut males are usually solitary. The similarly coloured roe deer is much smaller and is only seen singly or in small family groups.
Red deer are found in any habitat where suitable grazing is available. They prefer mature deciduous woodland but are often seen in agricultural fields and open moorland and may travel up to 10 km/day. Home ranges vary with season and habitat but stags may cover over 1000 ha. Red deer are active throughout the day but tend to be more nocturnal in areas with a lot of human activity. Red deer feed on a range
of vegetation: grasses are important but heather, ferns, lichens and tree shoots are all eaten. Damage to forestry plantations can be significant from browsing of shoots and bark, especially of young trees. Red deer also eat cereals, grass crops and root fodder crops and this may bring them into conflict with farmers.
Red deer mate in the autumn when mature males leave their bachelor herds and compete for access to harems of up to 100 hinds. Larger, older stags display and roar to intimidate competitors. They rarely fight, although this can have lethal consequences. Hinds give birth to a single calf in June which matures at 3 or 4 years. Female calves usually stay with the mother’s herd whilst males join bachelor herds.
Red deer have no natural predators in the UK but many are killed in road accidents and they are hunted both for food and trophies, but also to control agricultural and forestry damage. Calves often die in poor weather.
Red deer populations have increased dramatically over recent years. As recently as 1948 outside the Scottish hills they were limited to small areas of Devon, Somerset, and Hampshire. Changes in habitat, climate, and management mean that there are now more than 360,000 red deer in the UK. Concerns have been raised over their impact on other species through grazing activity. Deer are also important reservoirs of tick-borne diseases and some agricultural diseases such as bluetongue.
Field surveys for tracks and signs. Returns from deer managers and huntsmen through the Deer Initiative. Road casualty reports: an estimated 40-75,000 deer are killed each year on Britain’s roads. Incidental sightings from walkers and annoyed gardeners.
Red deer droppings consist of individual pellets 20-25 mm long and 13-18 mm thick with a point at one end and a dimple at the other. In the summer the pellets are often clumped together and can be confused with those of sheep. Tracks, or slots, are large (an adult deer leaving tracks up to 100 mm long) and often seen on regularly used trails and bank crossings. When stags are removing the velvet from their antlers they may leave distinctive damage on trees. In summer and during the rut muddy wallows are created in damp areas.
© David Groves
© David Groves
There have been several reports of white stags, and hinds, around the Cornwall/Devon border over the last few years. In 2007 there was a national outcry when a 9 year old white stag was shot, presumably by a trophy hunter. There are at least 8 White Hart pubs in Cornwall.
Did you know?:
Deer have no teeth in the front upper jaw so they leave a ragged edge to any browsed vegetation, in contrast to the clean cut left by rabbits. There is no evidence that lion dung or human hair will help keep deer out of your garden, despite popular claims.
Red deer are concentrated in the east of the county, but they are highly mobile and have been reported asfar west as Penwith. Widespread throughout Europe, closely related species occur across the NorthernHemisphere. In the UK the main populations occur in the Scottish Highlands. Introduced to Australasia and South America, they often occur at pest levels.
Red deer are not regarded as being under threat and are actively controlled in many areas. All deer are protected under the Deer Act, 1991, which defines open seasons and specifies the means that can be used to kill deer.