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Roe deer

Roe deer


Adult Roe deer grow to 60 - 75cm at the shoulder and weigh 10 - 25kg. Bucks (males) are slightly larger than does (females).

They are small and elegant with a summer coat of reddish brown turning to grey, pale brown or (occasionally) black in winter. They have a black nose, white chin and white rump patch with a short tush in females. Roe deer exhibit a bounding gait when alarmed. Antlers are rugose (rough or ridged surface), short (less than 30cm) and have three tines (points) on each.

History, distribution & habitat

Roe deer are native to Britain, having been here since before the Mesolithic period (6,000 to 10,000 years ago). Forest clearance and over-hunting led to their extinction in England by 1800 but they remained in wooded patches in Scotland. Several reintroductions during Victorian times, and their subsequent natural spread, aided by an increase in woodland and forest planting in the 20th century, has meant that roe deer are abundant today.

Roe deer are common and widespread throughout Scotland and England, except for parts of Kent and the Midlands. They are spreading into Wales from England. While preferring woodland and forest, when populations are at high densities they may also occupy fields.

Roe deer are browsers that actively select different food types including herbs, brambles, ivy, heather, bilberry & coniferous/deciduous tree shoots. However, browsing of tree shoots and agricultural crops puts them in conflict with farmers and foresters due to economic damage. Conversely, many country and forest estates can gain substantial revenue from recreational stalking and/or venison production. Whether in conflict or used as a resource, roe deer populations require careful management to maintain health and quality and to ensure a sustainable balance with their environment.

Breeding, behaviour & lifecycle

The rut, or breeding season, occurs between mid-July to mid-August. Bucks become aggressive and maintain exclusive territories around one or more does prior to the rut. Fights between bucks can result in serious injury or death with the winner taking over the loser’s territory or attendant doe. Courtship involves chasing between the buck and doe for some time until the doe is ready to mate.

Although mating occurs in this period the fertilised egg does not implant and grow until January. This is thought to be an adaptation to avoid giving birth during harsh northern winters. The gestation period is nine months (four months of no embryonic growth followed by five months of foetal growth) with kids (usually two or three) being born May – June. Heavy mortality may occur shortly after birth and during the first winter.

Roe do not maintain exclusive territories but live within overlapping home ranges. Males mate with several females and females mating with several males has also been observed.

Roe deer are solitary, forming small groups in winter. They are active throughout the 24-hour period but make more use of open spaces during the hours of darkness in populations experiencing frequent disturbance. Peak times of activity are at dawn and dusk. Long periods are spent ‘lying up’ where the deer lies down to ruminate between feeding bouts.

When alarmed bucks and does give a short bark, which is often repeated. During the rut does make a high-pitched piping call to attract a buck who makes a rasping noise as he courts the doe.

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Further reading

The Roe Deer – Conservation of a Native Species by Richard Prior (1995) Quiller Publishing
Roe Deer Management and Stalking by Richard Prior (2010) Quiller Publishing