Red deer (Cervus Elaphus) can be found in much of England, Wales and southern Scotland, mostly in woodland areas, but they also live quite comfortably on the open hills and moors of Northern England and the Scottish Highlands, they are one of the largest deer species.
Wild deer are not as easy to spot especially while roaming in forests due to their excellent coloration and their shy nature combined with heightened senses and instincts. Park herds are not quite as shy but are still semi-wild and need plenty of space, they should be treated with respect as though you would in the wild.
Most of us will have seen deer in parkland environments, red deer probably more frequently than other species such as Roe or Fallow deer. There are many deer species found in the UK, some native and others introduced to the country and are now more common. The Sika deer are on the increase in the UK and especially in Scotland. Other deer species to look out for are Chinese Water deer, and Muntjack. Out of the six deer found in the UK only Red deer and Roe deer are actually native.
Habitat and feeding
The Red deer were in decline by the end of the eighteenth century due to hunting and loss of woodland but have gradually increased over the last hundred years due to changes in habitats and from parkland escapees and measured releases into certain areas.
Red deer do not have any natural predators in the UK and their numbers can sometimes become a problem in certain locations, which can be unhealthy for the herd, especially when confined to a set perimeter such as parkland, and also to their environment, they can devastate an area of flora and fauna if left to overpopulate. The main wild habitat areas are predominately woodland and upland areas.
Some of the easier places to see them closer and to photograph Red deer is in a parkland setting, but of course always give them plenty of space, remember they are still semi-wild. Their natural foods are primarily grasses, but they will eat a range of plants, which include tree shoots, sedges and rushes, herbs and shrubs.
Throughout September to November, the red deer enter the rut, with males fighting for access to hinds. A mature stag will attach himself to a group of females and attempt to see off any other males that wish to mate.
Stags will roar loudly which is quite a deep sound and can be heard for a very long way. They will thrash vegetation about to intimidate their rivals. If this behaviour doesn’t put off the opponent, the two will fight, locking antlers while pushing and twisting until the weaker of the two stags flees. These battles can lead to serious injuries and sometimes even death.
The adult females, called a hind, will mate with the dominant male and give birth in late spring or early summer. The period of gestation is around 240 to 262 days, and the offspring weigh about 15 kg (33 lb) They will usually give birth to just one calf. They are is born with a spotted coat which will give the youngster some camouflage in the early weeks of life while they are left hidden in undergrowth while the mother goes to feed.
She will return once in a while to suckle the youngster and in the meantime the fawn will stay very still and quiet until the mother returns for them. If you ever come across a young fawn curled up amongst the undergrowth all alone, this is completely natural and the young one should be left alone and undisturbed so as not to upset the mother baby bond.
The young are able to join the herd after two to three weeks and after a few months the fawns will be completely weaned. By the end of summer, they will have lost their baby spots but will remain with their mothers for around a year and leave around the same time as the next seasons calves are born. When it is not rutting season the male and female groups live separately, especially when living in an open habitat.
Antlers are dropped, or in other words, cast, and grow back over a period of months while covered in a furry skin which is called velvet.
When the growth is complete the velvet is rubbed off low branches or wherever they can get a good rub against, then the antler will be d described as being clean. The older deer tend to cast and clean their antlers first followed by the younger. Red stags tend to cast their antlers between March and May, the antlers will be in velvet from around May until August and again, clean from between September till March and the cycle begins again.
Antlers are a stag’s weapon during the rutting season and the male red deer can be dangerous during the rutting season which is (September to November). Avoid getting too close to them around this time, and definitely do not get in-between them and the female deer or another male. If you are walking with your dog near you must them keep it under close control or on a lead.
Lifespan and maturity
Female red deer reach breeding maturity around 2 years old, and the mating patterns often involve a dozen or more mating attempts before the final successful one.
Red deer can live for around 20 years (but it is rare,) when in captivity for example in a park environment due to the more protective live. Living in the wild, they would generally live for around 10 to 13 years.
The red deer footprint is oval, 5cm wide by 7cm long. The size of red deer: Up to 1.37 metres at the shoulder, length nose to tail is 201cm in males. Those living in a woodland environment will generally live in separate smaller groups or just lone deer and young living more isolated lives. Actually, when deer live in a woodland setting, they often grow larger and healthier due to the better, more varied sources of food.
Hunting and iconic deer
One of the most popular and well-known images of red deer is The Monarch of the Glen, 1851, painted by Sir Edwin Landseer, an iconic image of the 19th century and depicts a rather majestic red stag. The meat from deer is called venison and is higher in protein and lower in fat than either beef or chicken, it is sometimes derived from deer kept in large enclosures for meat production, sometimes from parkland culls which become inevitable when a herd becomes too large for the area of the parkland boundaries or to take out the lame or otherwise. The culling of red deer for sport, meat, or management is a significant factor in red deer ecology. In many parts of the Highlands, the annual culling rates (of 6-12% of hinds and 10-17% of stags), have not prevented a population increase amongst the Highland herds.
Parkland herds an insight for the public
I have lived near to a parkland herd of red deer for many years, and it has been a pleasure to watch them in all seasons and seen the park close on occasion for maintenance or in other words for a cull.
The circle of life continues and to see the young fawns when they join the female groups is lovely to see. I have seen the stags in rutting season and listen to them roar their guttural calls and often the large male stags with walk in the lake across to the small island at Wollaton Hall and Deer Park. It is lovely to see the deer in winter walking through the snow in a snow flurry.
The deer here are supplemented with their diet, the staff leave them piles of mangles to eat in winter months. We always give the deer plenty of space and I sometimes bring a longer lens with me so that I can take a closer photo without the need to encroach on their space. We sometimes leave our dogs at home or we’ll keep them on a lead.
This particular park has two herds of deer, the red deer and Fallow deer, these are much more timid than the red deer. I love watching all of them when I get a chance, they are all so beautiful.