Find out below about the types of deer in the National Park, where you can spot them and how you can plan your hillwalking with minimal chance of disturbance.
Types of deer in the National Park
Native roe and red deer, present in Britain since the end of the last ice age, are found in much of the National Park. There is also a small population of fallow deer around Loch Lomond and recently a number of exotic Sika deer have been found in the Park, as a result of incursions from neighbouring areas.
Male deer carry antlers for most of the year. The size and appearance of antlers vary enormously depending on species, habitat, feeding and the genetic characteristics of local populations. Their practical function largely relates to male deer breeding behaviour and are used in challenging other males. They cast their antlers every year and grow new ones, which are protected by a velvet covering whilst developing. Once the antlers are fully formed male deer remove the velvet by fraying on shrubs and trees.
European roe (Capreolus capreolus) can be considered to have been continuously resident on the British mainland since the end of the last ice age, crossing from Europe by means of the land bridge. Roe suffered a steady decline through the medieval period when they became a food source to an expanding peasant population. By the late sixteenth century roe were becoming increasingly scarce due in part to forest clearance and the rise of widespread sheep- farming. With the growing interest in forestry and game shooting during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the fortunes of roe deer started to improve. They can now be found throughout the National Park.
This is by far the smallest deer in the National Park. Apart from size, roe deer can be identified by their light coloured rump (buff to white), no obvious tail, black nose and white chin patch. The buck has short, pointed branched antlers. The colour of the coat changes from bright red brown (like a fox) in the summer to a dark grey brown in the winter. The fawns have a splash of white spots over a brown and black coat.
Red deer (Cervus elaphus) are the largest land mammals in Britain and have been here since this island was joined to mainland Europe. After the ice age there was a large population of red deer in the heavily wooded Britain. The success of the species is closely linked to the fortunes of man who has hunted deer, over the centuries, for food and for sport. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when food was scarce, it was royal protection of the aristocracy’s privilege to hunt for sport that ensured red deer were not hunted to extinction. One of oldest royal hunting forests is at Glen Finglas in the heart of the Trossachs.
During the summer, red deer are dark red or brown with a lighter colour of cream on the underbelly, inner thighs and rump. They have short tails. In winter the coat turns dark brown to grey. The calf’s coat is brown thickly spotted and white.
The video below, filmed by one of our Rangers, shows how energy consuming rut can be. Here a dominant stag is doing his best to keep a couple of younger stags away from his harem. While the youngsters are too small to mount a serious challenge (and so are not roaring), they will still take any opportunity to mate with hinds if the dominant stag lets his guard down. Dominant stags eat very little during the rut and lose about 14% of their bodyweight. Actual fighting is rare, with dominance hierarchy being established and maintained through roaring and parallel walking. If fighting does occur the risk of injury is high. Around 5% of rutting stags are permanently injured each year. The price would be higher if wolves still roamed Scotland as they target weak and injured animals.
An essential piece of equipment for deer spotting is a pair of binoculars as deer are by nature secretive and will avoid people if possible. Red deer will retreat to higher ground or during the height of summer to avoid flies, returning to lower or more sheltered ground in the winter months.
Their daily movement pattern will lead them from the lower, more sheltered areas where they spend the nights, back to higher sunny slopes where they spend the day feeding, resting and chewing the cud. Red deer can be seen in the wood if you chance upon them, however, the best place to see red deer is on the open hill during good weather. During the rut the roaring of the stags is a sure sign that deer are around but they can still be hard to spot on the hillside.
Roe deer can be seen feeding at all times of the day depending on season and weather. The main times of activity are at dawn and dusk. Roe feeding in the open will head directly for cover if disturbed. Heavy rain and strong winds tend to suppress feeding activity and they will stay in cover, so a good time to find roe deer feeding is after bad weather as they quickly emerge to feed and dry off. They like to sunbathe and a sunlit clearing in woodland will often be a favourite place to see them.
Hillwalkers and climbers using the Scottish hills should be aware that deer management activities may be taking place in the areas where they wish to walk. Deer have no natural predators in the UK, and culling is essential to control numbers and keep them at levels the environment can support. Deer management can take place during many months of the year but the most sensitive time is the stag stalking season (usually from 1 July to 20 October, but with most stalking taking place from August onwards).
Deer can be quite nervous animals and can be disturbed even when out of sight as their sense of smell is very good. During the stalking season, walkers can help stalkers by taking account of advice on alternative routes, and by avoiding crossing land where stalking is taking place.
Stalkers can be helpful by encouraging enquiries and providing information on suitable routes. Stalking does not normally take place on Sundays. When planning routes, walkers can help to minimise disturbance during the stalking season by following the main established hill paths, prominent ridges and spurs, especially in descent, main routes through the glens and principal watercourses when descending open hillsides.
Video taken by one of our Rangers of three roe deer (2 does and a buck) negotiating a fence in Auchtubh in the National Park
Heading for the Scottish Hills
Be aware that the owners of the land you are crossing might be engaged in deer management and other farming activities and you can help minimise the chance of disturbance. Read more about it in the Heading to the Hills practical guide.
The most recent deer-vehicle collisions research shows there are up to 9,000 collisions between motor vehicles and deer every year in Scotland, with on average of 65 of these likely to result in human injuries.
Here is some useful advice for drivers from SNH:
When you see deer warning signs, check your speed and stay alert.
Use your headlights on full beam when you can, but dip them if you see a deer – this will make it less likely to ‘freeze’.
You may come across more than one deer waiting to cross the road.
Be prepared to stop – swerving to avoid a deer could cause you to hit another vehicle or obstacle, putting you in even more danger.
Use your hazard lights to warn others if you must stop on the road.
Never approach an injured deer – you could put yourself in danger.
Call 999 if you or another vehicle collides with a deer, resulting in injury or a risk to other road users.
Did you know? The highest number of road collisions with deer occur in early evening through to late at night, with a slightly lower peak from 6 am to 9 am.
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