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Red Deer

Latin Name: Cervus elaphus

Red deer migrated into Britain from Europe 11,000 years ago, and are one of the larges deer species as well as being the UK's largest land mammal. They were used extensively by Mesolithic man as a source of food, skins and tools made from their bones and antlers. Neolithic man developed agriculture and cleared large areas of forest to make way for fields this then saw a decline of red deer populations, which became confined to the Scottish Highlands, south-west England and a few other small, scattered populations. During the Norman period they were protected  in parks and "forests" for royal hunting, but during the Mediaeval period this protection was lost and caused another decline in numbers in England. The Victorians then re-introduced them. Escapees from deer parks, natural spread and an increase in forest and woodland cover since the early 20th century has meant that they are now widely distributed in Britain and are expanding in range and number.

See Larger Image Sylvia Duckworth

As well as being  kept as an ornamental park species in the UK, they are also farmed for their venison, and many country and forest estates gain substantial revenue from recreational stalking and/or venison production. They graze off tree shoots and agricultural crops and this puts them in conflict with farmers and foresters due to the damage caused.  Whether in conflict or used as a resource, red deer populations require careful management to maintain health and quality and ensure a sustainable balance with their environment.


Our largest land-mammal. Their summer coat is reddish brown to brown, while their thicker winter coat is brown to grey and acts as an insulator against the cold. Their winter coat starts to grow during the autumn and some stags also grow neck manes at this time of year. No spots present in adult coat. They have a creamy patch on their rump and a short beige tail. They have an even number of toes. Antlers on the Stags are highly branched with the number increasing with age. Up to 16 points are said to be the norm for particularly Scottish stags, however it is reported that at Woburn their largest stags can support up to 40 points. They grow in August and are lost between February and April the following year.

Animal Facts

In Britain: All Year

Life Span: Up to 25 years, although it is exceptional for them to survive past 18 years. Many in the wild only reaching 10-15 years. There is heavy infant mortality both at and shortly after birth and also during their first winter in some Scottish hill populations.

Statistics: Stags: 90-225kg, 107-137cm at shoulder. Females (hinds): 63-120kg, up to 107-122cm at shoulder. Deer on the open hill in Scotland are smaller than those in lowland English woodland.

Habitat: Within its range in England and southern Scotland occurs in woodlands and forests but can adapt to open moor and hill or mountain on Scottish hills and south-west England.

Food: Browsers and Grazers of grasses, and dwarf shrubs e.g. heather and bilberry. Woody browse, like tree shoots and bark is taken when other food is limiting e.g. during winter.

Breeding: Only stags over 5 years old tend to achieve matings despite being sexually mature much earlier (before their 2nd birthday in productive woodland populations). In woodland populations hinds over a year old give birth to a single calf after an 8 month gestation, between mid-May to mid-July each year. The calf is weaned after 9-12 months and reaches puberty at one and half, although it may be delayed until 3 years old in 'hill' hinds, which may give birth only once every 2 or 3 years.

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Distribution: Widespread ranging from Western Europe, NW Africa, Asia to West China and NW America. In Britain the native stock common in the Scottish Highlands, Dumfriesshire, Lake District, East Anglia and the south-west of England. Feral stock present in the north of England, north Midlands, East Anglia, the New Forest and Sussex.

Behaviour:  Red deer are active both day and night but activity peaks at dawn and dusk. In the Highlands of Scotland red deer use the open hill during the day and descend to lower ground during the night. In woodlands they are largely solitary or occur in mother and calf groups, which can be in herds of up to 50. On open ground, larger, single sex groups assemble, only mixing during the rut and in the Highlands of Scotland large groups may persist for most of the year. Males carry out ritualised fighting to minimise risk of serious injury, they begin by emitting a power roar which can echo around the forest. In the spring they can be seen rubbing against trees and other objects to help remove hair left over from their winter coat. Vocalisation: Stags roar and grunt during the rut. Hinds bark when alarmed and moo when searching for their young. Calves emit a high-pitched squeal when alarmed and may bleat to their mother.

The rut. The breeding season, or rut, occurs from the end of September to November. Stags return to hind's home ranges and compete for access to hinds by engaging in elaborate displays of dominance including roaring, parallel walks and fighting. Only males of comparable size and weight compete and they do this by locking antlers and attempt to push the other away. The strongest and most powerful stag wins and ensures exclusive mating with the harem of hinds

Conservation Status: In the UK are not considered endangered. In fact there are over-populations in some areas and may be culled. Other subspecies are listed on the 2000 Red List.


See Also

Deer Topic Index

Where to Photograph Deer in the UK 

Photographing Deer

Wikipedia - Red Deer

British Deer Society

Deer Commission for Scotland


By: Tracey Park Section: Wildlife Key:
Page Ref: red_deer Topic: Deer Last Updated: 03/2010

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