Red deer - monarch of the glens (and quite a lot of other places)


Red deer - monarch of the glens (and quite a lot of other places)

The Red Deer is Britain's largest land mammal. They are a native species having migrated to Britain from Europe 11,000 years ago. The population has declined at various times in the past, but is currently on the rise.

Male red deer are called stags, females hinds and the young calves. The average lifespan is 18 years.

Deer living in open upland habitats tend to be smaller than those living in more wooded lowland areas.

Red deer are a distinctive rusty red colour in summer turning to a brown winter coat. Adults are not spotted.

They have a short tail and a pale rump patch. The stag’s antlers are the species most distinguishing feature. They are highly branched and the branches increase with age with multiple points on each antler. Antlers are cast during March/April and begin to regrow to be fully formed and clear of velvet in August/September.

During the autumnal breeding season, known as the 'rut, males bellow to proclaim their territory and will fight over the females, sometimes injuring each other with their sharp antlers. A single calf is usually born the following spring.

Red deer were used extensively by Mesolithic man as a source of food, skins, and tools. However, the development of agriculture by Neolithic man cleared swathes of forest to make way for fields and this loss of forest encouraged the decline of red deer populations, which became confined to the Scottish Highlands, south-west England and a few other small, scattered populations.

The Normans protected deer in parks and ‘forests’ (often devoid of trees) for royal hunting, but this protection was lost during the Medieval period causing another decline in numbers in England. Victorian re-introductions of ‘improved’ stock (often inter-bred with larger related species such as wapiti), escapes from deer parks, natural spread, together with an increase in the Highlands and in forest and woodland cover since the early 20th century, mean that red deer are now widely distributed. Though, perhaps most associated with the Scottish Highlands, red deer are also common in the Lake District, the north of England, North Midlands, East Anglia, the New Forest, Sussex, East Anglia and the south-west of England.

As well as being farmed for their venison red deer are also kept as ornamental park species in the UK.

Further reading

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