England has 6 types of deer friends. You likely won’t see them very often, because deer are extremely shy. They will have seen you (or your dogs) a lot earlier than you would see them, and likely be gone in a flash. But we do have deer across England. So in this post, we shall meet them, learn about how they live, and how we can help them. This can from using humane methods to deter them from eating all your prize flowers, to avoiding hunting and shooting (there are kinder effective methods used worldwide to stop them breeding).
Deer herds sleep together, but don’t hibernate in winter. The only time you will likely see them is during rutting season, when the males fight over females. Antlers are made from bone and fall off each year and then grow again. They are mostly found in our woodlands. Top spots for deer including the New Forest, the Lake District and Scotland.
Our 6 Types of Deer Friends
We have 6 types of deer. Some are native and others have been introduced to England over the years.Aall deer live on grass, fruits and plants and some also eat the shoots and bark of trees. Fawns (Bambi!) are totally cute, with huge eyes and a strong relationship with the mother (doe). The male (stag) is a bit of lad, often mating with several females at a time. The six species of deer are:
- Red deer are not native, they came from Europe a few thousand years ago. They are very big animals and usually hide away in woods and forests, and are more common in Scotland than England. They are our largest land mammal.
- Roe deer are native and rusty brown, turning to a grey coat in winter. They have small antlers and very shy. They did go extinct in England due to hunting and removing forests, but now are more common. If alarmed, they bark like dogs.
- Fallow deer are also medium sized, with antlers. They have various coloured coats and came from the Normans in the 10th century. The most common type has a brown body with white spots. Their antlers are shaped like hands or feet.
- Muntjac deer are small deer from China, and are popular in southern England. They have not had so much bad luck with hunting, as they tend to eat less shrubs.
- Sika deer are from Japan, and first turned up on Brownsea Island (near Poole in Dorset) around 150 years ago. They again have coats that change colour from pale to dark, often with white.
- Chinese water deer are small deer and don’t have antlers (the males do have tusks) and are mostly found in wet areas. They are often seen in southeast England. They have red-brown coats that turn grey in winter.
Like most wildlife, the best way to help is simply to leave it alone. Deer are very shy and just do their own thing. So unless there is a reason to go near deer, just leave them be. There are likely only two reasons you will come into contact with deer:
One is if deer are eating your plants and flowers, which can be likely if you have a large garden. And the second is if you see them near or on roads, or Heaven forbid, you are involved in an accident with a deer (there are other reasons deer get injured, covered below).
How to Keep Deer Safe Near Roads
Many deer are accidentally killed or injured yearly, and these are mostly for one of the following reasons: either they get caught on fencing or are involved in collisions with vehicles. Read how to keep wildlife safe near roads.
To keep wildlife safe near roads, drive sensibly and use your beam lights if driving in poor light (dim them if you see wildlife). If you see one deer (especially at dusk and dawn) there are likely to be more. Keep a wildlife rescue box in your car and call the wildlife ambulance (and police for larger animals), keeping animals quiet and safe in a ventilated box. Use a car trash bag. This helps to avoid throwing food waste out the window, which attracts wildlife. The dead wildlife then attracts more wildlife to scavenge. Take your rubbish home with you. Banff National Park in Canada has reduced collisions by 80% through wildlife crossing ideas. It’s the gold-standard worldwide. For more ideas, read The Handbook of Road Ecology by world experts.
You have likely heard of ‘deer whistles’ that attach to cars, which are supposed to alert deer of oncoming cars. Deer hear very well and can tell if sounds are coming from all directions (they can move each ear separately: you can make a pair of deer ears by cupping your circled palms around your ear, to enhance your own hearing), but early tests in Finland found that most are not sufficient quality to work well, and most deer did not alter their behaviour. This is not an exact science and it will likely do no harm to use them, but for now, the science suggests that they don’t do much good either. The sound needs to carry a lot farther ahead to work.
If you are involved a collision with a deer, this is a police matter, as well as one for your local wildlife ambulance. it’s a sad fact that both deer and often human tend to get injured in deer collisions. For this reason, insurance companies are just as interested in preventing deer-car accidents, as wildlife fans are. Most accidents happen at dawn and dusk (when deer are feeding) and these large animals also get very stressed, and may well run off, even if fatally injured later on.
Avoid Unsafe Netting & Rope
Likewise, deer injured in netting or fencing can also get serious injuries, and try to run on. If you see a young deer in the grass (just like birds) keep a lookout, for the parents are probably still there. Only phone the wildlife ambulance, if you are sure it is orphaned and/or injured. It may well have been abandoned if on open grass, as mothers will always hide their young, while they go off to feed. Other risks to deer include rope swings, stock fencing and electric fencing. Don’t try to cut animals out yourself as you could do more harm than good. Speak to your local wildlife ambulance and get expert advice, and wait for help. See safer alternatives to netting for wildlife.
Why Hunting Deer is Wrong
Deer are hunted throughout England. And not only is this cruel, but especially so for deer. League Against Cruel Sports writes that deer hunts often last 3 hours covering 18km (the charity owns its own sanctuaries, where deer have literally ‘flown over the border’ to safety, where they are safe from hunting). Red deer have no sweat glands, so research has found that they over-heat when chased and suffer even more than most animals, as they are suffering from heat exhaustion when they are finally shot. Unfortunately, deer-hunting is sometimes still legal in the UK. However if you see anything you suspect is not legal (such as extra abuse or hunting with bows), you can report it to their Animal Crime Unit or Crimestoppers (anonymous).
The main reason given for shooting deer is to cull their numbers, to protect land and stop deer suffering from malnutrition and disease. However Lesley Dove of the campaign group Stop the Deer Cull says that humane alternatives have been proven to work. She recommends GonaCon, an immune-contraceptive that is being used in the US to inject into the deer that works just as well, but without any suffering. Similar methods have been used on Dartmoor to stop over-breeding of wild ponies.
How to Stop Deer Eating Flowers
Deer are sometimes unwelcome by gardeners, because not only do they like eating flowers, but they also strip bark and can also eat thorny plants like yew. If you across a dead (or dying) deer or any other creature, you can report it to Garden Health Wildlife.
Many methods to deter deer and other creatures use flowers, but many bulbs and wildflowers are toxic to pets. Learn ones to avoid near dogs, cats, rabbits or horses (also keep cocoa mulch, conkers, acorns and fresh compost away from pets). PDSA lists toxic plants by season. See how to make your garden safe for pets. Avoid digging if possible, as this harms earthworms and other creatures. Use humane safe slug & snail deterrents.
- Living with Urban Wildlife is a great book by John Bryant, who runs a London humane deterrence firm. There’s nothing he does not know, this book shares his knowledge to kindly deter all unwelcome creatures.
- Humane Gardener and Humane Critter Control are American books, that are packed with info on how to deter creatures without harm. Most methods use the wisdom of nature like companion planting, plus a few homemade solutions.
- 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants is a book by plant expert Ruth Rogers Clausen who shows annuals, perennials, shrubs, bulbs, grasses and herbs. For each suggested plants, she shares helpful growing and design tips. Many plants are toxic to pets, see above info for safety for ones to avoid. Also read Deer-Resistant Design that shares tips on deer-resistant plants.
What Do Vets Think of ‘Antler Chews?’
Most vets are not fans of antler dog chews. Although in theory, discarded antlers seem to be ideal for dogs, the USA’s Preventive Vet (who focuses on hazards and injuries to avoid) writes that they are hard and sharp, so can cause teeth fractures and oral injuries. Not all dogs have issues, but many do. Dr Jason suggests picking quality safer chews (that can’t fit all the way into the mouth) to help prevent choking. One vet suggests: ‘don’t buy any chew toy that you wouldn’t want to be whacked in the knee with’.
Introducing Children to Deer Friends
- A Deer Called Dotty is a lovely story for young readers, shortlisted for a prize and beautiful black-and-white illustrations. Jasmine’s mother is called to help a pregnant deer who has been hit by a car. She performs and emergency operation and delivers tiny Dotty, before handing her over to be raised. Jasmine also helps other animals in this series of bedtime stories.
- Little Bird Lost is a charming story of a deer who is grazing in the forest, minding his own business. Until he hears someone calling for help. Little Bird has injured his wing in a fall, and has been separated from his flock, who are flying away to another warmer land. Deer is keen to help Little Bird and introduces him to his forest friends, who tell them that Little Bird needs to follow the sun, to find his flock. But how can he do that, when he can no longer fly? Deer offers to journey with him, and they set off on an adventure through the forest and seasons. A story about helping others, to overcome obstacles.
- Be prepared for tears. But Bambi remains a wonderful story about a young deer’s sad start in life. Sign up to Disney Channel (free trial then just £50 a year) to introduce your child to all the Walt Disney classic films. Made in 1942, the film features a mule deer and his friends Thumper (a rabbit) and Flower (a skunk). It’s ultimately a film about the cruelty of man and was panned by American hunters on release.