Deer species in Wales

Roe deer

Taxonomy

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalis

Order: Artiodactyla

Family: Cervidae

Up to the late 1980s the only wild or feral deer in Wales were fallow with a very few red deer that had escaped from Powis Castle near Welshpool. This all changed in the 1980s when roe deer released in the Ludlow area of England came over the border into Wales and by 1989 were present in areas of mid-Powys almost as far west as Llandrindod Wells. At about the same time there were the first reports of muntjac with the odd animal turning up in the Marches.

When the most recent survey of deer in Wales was carried out by the Wales Deer Initiative the remarkable findings were that all species had increased their range and that roe and muntjac in particular had spread dramatically over many areas of mid and south Wales.

Stag

There are now only two areas of Wales in which there are no wild or feral deer, the first is the far North West corner although there were wild fallow on Anglesey until very recently and roe and muntjac are pushing into this area, and the second is much of the old county of South Glamorgan although again it will not be long before muntjac appear here.

Fallow Deer

Fallow are not indigenous to the UK but have been around for at least 2000 years. They are the common spotted deer of deer parks all over the country. It is the most common deer in Wales numerically and has long established strongholds in the Wye Valley and Eastern Monmouthshire, the Twyi valley between Llandeilo and Carmarthen, the Elwy valley in the St. Asaph area, the forests adjacent to Margam Park near Port Talbot, and the Coed y Brenin forest of Gwynedd and Powys. It also appears in smaller numbers in most of North Wales, the lower Teifi valley and all along the English border.

Fallow stand up to 38 inches (0.9 m) at the shoulder and the males or bucks carry long antlers that are palmated at the top in mature animals. They have a number of different colorations. The most common colour is a reddish brown in summer with a number of white spots and these are denser along the line of the spine. In the winter this turns a little darker to more of a dun colour and the spots are less distinct. They have distinct caudal patch and this is white with a black edging. Other colour variations range from almost black to white with a very pale version of the normal colour called menil common in some areas. Animals of several colours can be present in one herd although there is a current trend to try and shoot out the abnormal colours as they are more visible and may attract poachers.

When mildly alarmed fallow have a habit of pronking, which is a stiff-legged gait making them look as though they are on pogo sticks; this is a precursor to full flight. They rut in October and the bucks holding territories are quite vocal, especially at dawn and dusk when the they make groaning noises which is a sort of cross between a pig's grunt and a belch. This sound carries for half a mile or more and can be quite alarming to those who do not know what it is.

Although often seen grazing in herds on grassland or in crops near woodland, fallow are capricious in their habits and seldom show up in the same place on two days running. The fawns are dropped in June and can be seen with their mothers from July onwards when they rejoin the herd.

Red Deer

These are the largest British deer, the subject for Landseers' Monarch of the Glen, with mature stags standing almost 48 inches (1.2m) at the shoulder and a big woodland stag will weigh up to 500lbs, making it the largest land mammal in Britain. Red deer were original inhabitants of Wales, but those native populations died out long ago. Red deer were re-established in Wales by escapes from Powis Castle near Welshpool, and a small feral population still survives in the locality. Recently with the increase in deer farming in other parts of Wales there have been more escapes, and there are now probable feral populations in north Monmouthshire, on the south Lleyn peninsular and two areas of what was Dyfed. Although most often seen on the open hill in Scotland, they are naturally animals of the forest and prefer heavily wooded environment.

True to their name they are a foxy red in colour and the stags carry large multi-pointed antlers. They usually rut in late September or early October and the stags roar challenges to other stags in the area. Once established in an area they tend not to move too far other than for the rut when the stags will travel some distance to find hinds (females). For most of the year the stags live in bachelor groups and leave the hinds and calves alone. They tend to drop their calves in June; the calves carry many white spots for the first months of their lives.

Roe Deer

The roe is also an indigenous deer to the UK but had been absent from Wales for several centuries, was always fairly common in Scotland, but was confined to just three areas of England until the 20th century - Dorset, Sussex and the Lake District. For reasons unknown it has enjoyed a huge population explosion during the latter half of the 20th century and is now very widespread in England and in the mid-1980s pushed across the English border into Wales in the Mortimer Forest area. According to a recent survey it now occupies much of an area from the English border west to within 15 miles of the coast in Cardigan Bay, north to the A55 and south to the Heads of the Valleys road and right up to the coast in Ceredigion.

It is of similar colour to a red deer but much smaller being a bit larger than a Labrador. The bucks carry small antlers with three points on each in a mature buck. It is a pretty and elegant deer but not a herd animal like the fallow and red. Where populations are high they can be seen in small groups of up to six or seven deer in the winter but, although it can now be seen in a large area of Wales, the population is still quite sparse and single animals are the most likely sighting. They do not require a deep forest habitat like the larger deer and are quite happy living on heather moorland, in hedgerows, small copses and even in suburban gardens as well as in forests. They can frequently be seen grazing in fields at dawn and dusk.

The bucks establish territories in the Spring with the younger bucks being pushed out by the resident bucks and this accounts for much of the spread of these deer. Roe rut in July/August and the act of the bucks continually chasing the does causes circular tracks to be worn in the grass and these are often called fairy rings. They are not particularly vocal and are unlikely to betray their presence during the rut in the same way as red or fallow deer. They will however bark at suspicious noises or movement before bolting.

Muntjac Deer

This deer is not indigenous to the UK, it is a deer of South East Asia and India. It has its origins in some escapes of Reeves Muntjac from Woburn in Bedfordshire in the late 19th century. For quite some time it spread very little from a 20 mile radius of Woburn but like the roe, in the latter half of the 20th century it suddenly started to expand its range dramatically and is now possibly the widespread deer in England and Wales. It first appeared in Wales in the late 1970s with the very occasional (and disbelieved) sighting in Monmouthshire and according to the survey, is now present about 15 miles either side of the entire M4 corridor in Wales with other populations in NE Wales and Snowdonia.

It is a small deer standing no more than around 24 inches (0.3m) at the shoulder and has a hunch-backed, crouching stance, similar to a hare or rabbit in profile. The bucks sport very small single spike antlers from an enlarged pedicle and some consider them to be quite ugly beasts. They will live in almost any environment from broad-leaved woodlands, standing crops, railway embankments, to back gardens and are often responsible for damage to garden plants attributed to rabbits. They do not have a fixed life cycle and the does can have fawns in virtually any month of the year. They are fairly solitary and, although some woods can hold high densities of muntjac, they are usually seen as single animals or does with fawns at foot. When alarmed they will bark loudly like a dog and then raise their large white tails and run off quickly, often barking as they go.

Sika Deer

These are also immigrants from Asia and are often called Japanese Deer or Japanese Sika although not all of our deer are of the Japanese sub-species. They look like a smaller version of the red deer, being about the same size as fallow. They are closely related to red deer and in fact hybridisation with reds is a big problem in Scotland. Apart from the very uncommon Chinese Water Deer, they are the least widespread of our wild deer and in England are generally confined to small areas in Dorset, the New Forest, Lancashire and the Lake District. They are not generally regarded as being present in Wales but there are recent reports of a population of sika deer in the marshes along the tidal Teifi.

Text kindly contributed by Paul King.