Deer in Britain - The Broket Archive

Deer in Britain

There are three indigenous species of deer in Britain:1

  • the red deer (Cervus elaphus)
  • the paler-coloured fallow deer (Dama dama) introduced by the Normans
  • the much smaller roe deer (Capreolus capreolus).

They originally lived in forests and were common in medieval times:

“Hert is a commoun beest I nowe and therfore me nedeth not to telle of his makyng for ther bene fewe folk that ne han seye some”
= The adult male red deer is common enough not to need me to describe him; nearly everyone has seen some.
So begins the opening chapter of the Master of Game, c 1410.

Cattle rearing had actually begun to cause their decline from the 13th C, although in the high Yorkshire Pennines wild herds of red deer were still being recorded in the late 16th C.2 Nowadays with fewer forests, wild deer are much less common, although red still exist in Scotland under light control of gamekeepers.

Apart from the rutting season in September and October, they live in two segregated herds, males staying apart from females and young. After two winters with his mother, aged 20-22 months, the young male leaves her to join the older males. Their average life expectancy is 12 years.


One of his most remarkable features is his antlers, which he sheds and regrows annually. Roe vary slightly from the following approximate details for red and fallow:

Early antler growth

 1st year2nd year3rd year
August2nd antlers fully grown
Decantlers begin
Marleaves mother
Apr-Maysheds 1st antlerssheds 2nd antlers
May2nd antlers begin3rd antlers begin

A male deer starts developing small, single-pointed or forked antlers from his first winter, aged about six months. These should be the length of the ears by the following September, newly into his second year. He can still be carrying this first head up to the following May, aged about 22 months old.

His second head will be fully grown just into his third year of life. These antlers will have between 4 and 8 points (tines) and nowadays under controlled conditions more can be achieved. So, depending on conditions and how far into the year it was, two-year-old wild male deer carried antlers with 1 to 8 tines.

Page Last Updated: April 6, 2020


For full bibliographical details please see the sections Publications or Glossary.


[1] Information mostly from de Nahlik 1987 pp 51-60; Vesey Fitzgerald 1946; Chaplin 1977. For antlers: Baugher 1995; Lloyd 1975; Prior 1987.

[2] Pollard 1990 p 201.

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