Thanks for dropping in, deer


WHILE our daughter Elizabeth was visiting last week, we were in the front room on Thursday evening when we noticed a visitor in the field at the back. With great good luck, or more likely inherited talent, Elizabeth was able to take this picture.

It is a male roe deer, standing at the top of a steep rise behind our greenhouse, and in the foreground is our balcony. He stayed for quite a few seconds, apparently looking straight at us, then calmly walked away.

The roe is one of two native deer, the other being the red deer. (There are four other breeds in Britain – muntjac, sika, water and fallow, all introduced – and I wrote about them here.) 

Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) are particularly associated with the edges of woodlands and forests. They were close to extinction 300 years ago due to over-hunting and deforestation, and still rare a century ago. With strategic reintroductions in Victorian times and the increase in woodland planting in the 20th century, they have  steadily increased and there are now well over half a million in England, Scotland and Wales.

Today they use agricultural fields as well as woodland, and according to the British Deer Society they are increasingly entering areas closer to our towns and cities as they take advantage of more urban habitats. The species is widespread in Europe. I expect there are plenty round here but they keep out of the way and this is the first I have seen in 12 years.

In the summer they have rusty red coats but in winter they are greyish. Both sexes have a white rump and no visible tail.

Males are called bucks (or roebucks), females are does and the young are kids. They are medium size for deer, being about 25ins at the shoulder. Adult bucks have antlers which they shed and regrow each year. Each year they gain an extra point to a maximum of three, so I think the one we saw is probably two years old.

They are browsers and feed on tree shoots and leaves, herbs, brambles, ivy and other woody plants. The British Deer Society says: ‘Roe are often seen as both a positive and negative influence in the countryside. They can cause damage to young woodlands and agricultural crops through browsing, however many landowners and rural industries utilise the stalking of roe deer and the sale of venison as a substantial supplementary financial income.’

Both sexes make dog-like barking noises when startled or alarmed, as you can see here.

Roe deer have a most unusual breeding cycle. The rut, or breeding season, is from mid-July to mid-August. Bucks become aggressive and may fight to the death. Not in this case though.

Mating takes place at this time, but the fertilised egg does not implant and start to grow until January. This is thought to be an adaptation to avoid giving birth during winter. From then the gestation period is five months, with kids being born from May to June.


This story appeared in the Times on Friday. (You can click on it to enlarge it and you can read the Mail version of the story here.)

I find these tedious BBC folks jarring. There is a Lancashire word for Gillian Burke and her ilk: ‘wazzock’.


There are no Wheels or Livestock of the Week today but I hope they will be back next week.

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