Deer in the New Forest
An introduction to the five species of deer in the New Forest, and when and where to see them
Deer in the New Forest – an introduction
First it was about deer hunting
The New Forest has always been renowned for its deer, ever since King William the Conqueror named it as a Royal Forest in 1079. This was primarily "for the pursuit of the beasts of the chase – red, roe and fallow deer, and wild pigs."
Continuing that theme, the meat of the chase is known as venison, which has a very distinctive taste and low levels of fat, and makes fabulous winter casseroles.
Today it’s about deer management
The deer in the New Forest have no natural predators, so they have to be culled in order to keep numbers stable, and that’s one of the many jobs of the New Forest Keepers.
For every 100 deer on the forest one year there will be 30 new ones the following year, so the approximate regime in the forest is to cull 30% a year which amounts to around 700 deer from a population of nearly 2,000.
Sally Fear's wonderful book Crown Keepers of the New Forest was published last year (2016) and explains much more about the management of the New Forest deer population. Sally has kindly allowed us to use some of her fabulous photos from the book for this article, to show the distinctive features of the five different species of deer which roam on the New Forest.
When and where to see deer in the New Forest
Deer are shy animals and tend to keep to the quieter parts of the forest during the day, plus the forest woodland gives cover and shelter, and even the open heathland tends to camouflage them rather successfully, so unless you’re looking closely you may well miss them.
At dawn, dusk and indeed after dark though, they often venture near the roadsides – and moving fast apparently from nowhere can do a lot of damage to cars, yet another reason if another were needed, to drive at safe speeds on forest roads.
Deer are herd animals and move together in groups so you won’t often see one alone – but you will sometimes see a large herd gathered in one place. And because they can also quite inquisitive, you might occasionally have a thrill similar to the one we experienced a couple of weeks ago.
Three of us - on horseback not on foot, which probably helped - and about 25 Sika stags young and old stood and stared at each other for at least ten minutes, in fact it was we who eventually broke away first.
The young stags were playfighting testing their growing antlers. In bright sunshine this was truly a spectacle to witness - and even for us locals a real treat. However, our attempts to photograph them were not good enough, so thanks to Sally Fear for this one - they looked exactly like this!
Autumn is a particularly exciting time of year to see deer as it is rutting (mating) season for most species. The noise of rutting deer is like no noise you’ve heard before. There’s more on this subject later too.
Bolderwood – all year round deer viewing
However a good place to view the deer all year round is at Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary where a purpose built platform has been built overlooking a large meadow. Plus there is a tremendous amount of information at Bolderwood car park about the types of deer found in the New Forest.
The deer are also fed at Bolderwood every day April through September for the benefit of visitors who would like a close up view. A good tip is to arrive late morning: herds of pretty Fallow deer will gather in anticipation as they wait for the Forestry Commission Ranger who usually arrives lunchtime/ early afternoon.
The link above takes you to the New Forest National Park website page about Bolderwood. There is also a useful page on the Forestry Commission website http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/englandhampshirenoforestnewforestbolderwood
Five different species of deer in the New Forest
There are five different species of deer in the New Forest.
First there are the two native British species: Red deer and Roe deer.
The other three species are Fallow, Sika, and Muntjac. Each of these has been released deliberately or escaped onto the forest, at some stage along the way.
By far the greatest number of deer on the forest are Fallow - approximately 1200.
There are about 80-100 Sika and a small number of Muntjac.
The species you’re likely to see will depend on whereabout in the New Forest you are looking.
Red deer are kept at a constant level of around 100 within the New Forest boundaries. The stags tend to move off the forest onto outlying farmland and private estates after the rut has finished at the end of October. The hinds usually remain in their highest concentrations around the central parts of the New Forest.
Red deer are the largest of all deer species found in Britain, and have a rich chestnut pelage in the summer months fading to a duller grey-brown in winter matching the vegetation. Calves are born with a spotted pelage, which fades with maturity.
More information about Red deer in the New Forest
Roe deer have small bodies and long, elegant legs. They have 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. Roe deer “bound” when alarmed which is quite distinctive.
Roe deer are also classed as solitary in habit compared to the larger species of deer, although they can be seen within family groups or pairs on occasions.
Roe deer rut in July, which is much earlier than the other species, although they have their young at the same time of year. (The Gestation is not any longer, but they have what is known as delayed implantation where the fertilised embryo does not attach to the womb until a few months later.)
There are approximately 350 Roe deer within the New Forest boundaries.
More information about Roe deer in the New Forest
Sika deer come originally from Japan. In the New Forest they arrived as escapees belonging to Lord Montagu of Beaulieu in 1902. Originally two escaped and were later joined by another pair, and so were the founders of today’s current herd of approximatly 80-100.
In contrast to other herds of Sika found within Britain, the New Forest Sika are considered to be of a clean bloodline with no intermixing of other subspecies, or hybridisation with red. And certainly seen as a group on that memorable day they were a magnificent sight to behold.
When Sika mate with Red they produce fertile offspring, which threatens the integrity of the Red deer’s bloodline. In order to preserve both species, the New Forest’s deer management plan sets boundaries and the Sika herd is kept to the south of Brockenhurst.
And the main areas where in our recent experience you’re likely to see a herd of Sika, are Beaulieu Heath and Bagshot Moor – that’s west of Hatchet Pond towards either Lymington or Brockenhurst, and getting well off the beaten track onto the wilder expanses of heath, forest and bog!
More information about Sika deer in the New Forest
Fallow are thought to have been introduced into the New Forest by the Normans, although suggestions have been made that the Romans also brought herds across.
Fallow within the New Forest are considered to be among the wildest of populations found throughout Britain. Having said that, the wide variety of colours seen nowadays reflect more recent additions, from escapees of park stock.
Fallow come in a variety of colours which makes things even more confusing for deer recognition! These include:
White - creamy off white colour, often mistaken as albino.
Menil - brightly spotted all year round.
Melanistic - very dark brown, almost black.
Common Spotted in summer, fading to a dull grey-brown in winter.
Bolderwood is the perfect place to discover Fallow deer - and learn about the different colours and markings too.
More information about Fallow deer in the New Forest
Finally there’s the Muntjac, which is occasionally spotted within the New Forest boundaries – we’ve seen quite a few close to the road between Beaulieu and Lyndhurst.
Muntjac are small, dog-sized creatures with long back legs. Their raised and rounded back ends make them look almost pig-like. The males (bucks) have short, simple antlers. They are generally solitary or found in pairs (doe with kid or buck with doe).
More information about the Muntjac in the New Forest
Stag or buck, hind or doe?
An adult male Red or Sika deer is called a stag, the female is a hind, and a young deer is a calf.
Whereas for Fallow and Muntjac it’s buck, doe and fawn.
And for Roe it’s different again: buck, doe and kid!
Become an instant expert on deer terminology
Pelage = Coat
Slots = Track marks
Fewments = Deer droppings
Tine = Point on an antler
Rut = Breeding season (autumn – October is the big month)
Pearling Raised = bumps on a roe deer antlers
Coronet = base of antler
Pedicle = Raised section on skull from where the antlers grow.
Speller = Points on a fallow deer’s antler
Palmation = Shape of fallow deer’s antler
Brocket = Yearling red or sika stag
Autumn is the most exciting time of year to watch our deer – that’s when they mate, in order to do which they have to establish their hierarchies.
The three largest species of deer (red, fallow and sika) all rut in the autumn and are easy to watch in in the wild. Rutting activity is most intense soon after dawn.
We’ll post some information later in the year about potential opportunities for “organised” viewing of the deer ruts.
And if you do go out to watch them, you must remember that male deer are pumped full of testosterone and highly aggressive, they can attack dogs and people so keep your distance.
Crown Keepers of the New Forest
The "Crown Keepers of the New Forest" have been guardians of the forest and its wildlife for almost 1000 years and today they are the front line of the Forestry Commission that looks after the Forest, A large part of their role is managing the deer numbers – including numbers of the individual deer types in relation to one another.
Sally Fear’s book will give you an insight into all the work of these very special people including some wonderful photography of which you’ve seen a taste in this article. Whereas you’ll be able to get close to the ponies, your chance of seeing a live deer as close up as these photographs is zero! So for the photographs alone we highly recommend this fabulous book.
Crown Keepers of the New Forest by Sally Fear with a Foreword by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh costs £35.00. It is for sale in Waterstones Lymington, Ringwood and Southampton. Also at the New Forest Centre in Lyndhurst, Setley Vineyard Farm Shop Brockenhurst and Hockeys Farm Shop in South Gorley. And from www.sallyfear.com
Information sources and more information about deer of the New Forest
Photographs for this article are all by Sally Fear
Information sources for this article include the Forestry Commission and New Forest National Park Authority websites
If you'd like to know more about the Deer Management Plan click this link.
If you're thinking about a self catering holiday in the New Forest...
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