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Deer species in Britain

Six species of deer live freely in the British countryside. Only red deer and roe deer are truly indigenous. Fallow deer were almost certainly introduced by the Normans while three Asiatic species, Reeves’ muntjac, Chinese water deer and sika deer arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Red deer (Cervus elaphus)
These are Britain’s largest land mammal. Red deer have a short tail and a pale rump patch with no particular distinguishing features.

Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus)
Roe deer vary in coat colour throughout the year, their coats are bright rusty red in summer turning a dull, slate grey colour in winter. Both sexes have a prominent white rump and no tail.

Fallow deer (Dama dama)
Whilst non-native, are considered naturalised and are locally abundant. They are widespread in England and Wales, but patchy in Scotland. Fallow deer often have a distinctive black inverted horseshoe shape on their rumps, and a black stripe on their long tails.

Sika deer (Cervus nippon)
Similar to Fallow deer in coat colour. They vary from pale yellow/brown through to red/brown with white spots in the summer months to dark grey and black in the winter. There is often a distinct dark coloured dorsal stripe running the length of the back. Sika deer were introduced from the Far East into Britain in 1860. While several subspecies were introduced the only free-living form in Britain is the Japanese sika.

Reeves’ muntjac deer (Muntiacus reevesi)
Russet brown in colour for most of the year, turning to a dull grey in winter. They have a wide, flat tail, which is raised erect to display a white underside when disturbed. Brought from China to Woburn Park in Bedfordshire in the early 20th century. They are now widespread and increasing in number and range.

Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis)
Russet brown colour for most of the year, their coat turning a dull grey in winter.
They have short tails and lack any distinguishable markings at the rear. Chinese water deer do not have antlers but males (bucks) do have prominent ‘tusks’ and females have shorter, less visable ones.
Originally having escaped from Whipsnade Zoo in 1929. Numbers increased through introductions into deer parks and subsequent escapes and releases.


Père David deer (Elaphurus davidianus)

Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus)
which went extinct in the wild, was native to the river valleys of China. Found in the UK only in Deer Parks such as Woburn Abbey, which have donated animals back to China for reintroduction in some areas.