JO RICHARDS of The Wildlife Trusts looks at how some of Britain’s most loved mammals are thriving in Yorkshire

In a country mostly devoid of large mammals, which were hunted out of existence during the Middle Ages, seeing deer in the Yorkshire countryside can be a special moment.

That isn’t to say that the three species long associated with our countryside didn’t themselves suffer from the medieval bow or spear. Both ‘native’ species (the red and roe deer) and ‘naturalised’ species (the fallow deer, introduced many centuries ago) came close to extinction in Great Britain. But numbers were boosted by Victorian re-introductions and natural spread into suitable habitat.

Today, three additional species join the red, roe and fallow, thanks in part to zoo and park escapes. Of Asian origin, the Reeves’ muntjac (known simply as muntjac), Chinese water and sika deer have all been introduced during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Numbers of all six species have seen a marked increase due to their adaptability and lack of natural predators (other than humans). So a keen observer in the right place now has a good chance of viewing deer in their natural habitat.

In fact, in some corners of the UK, deer populations are doing so well that in recent years they have presented a problem. For example red deer in parts of Scotland have prevented woodland regeneration, leading to tree-less landscapes. In southern England, car collisions with muntjacs are increasing.

In Yorkshire, in the main, we find three native and naturalised species – the red, roe and fallow. Numbers of these are on the increase,: and the muntjac, previously of south England distribution, is now moving north.

For the best chance to see these captivating creatures, venture out at dawn and dusk. All three main species prefer woodland habitat, but where population densities are high, you can often spot them in open, agricultural fields, as they are easier to see.

Red deer

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Red deer. Photo: Jon Hawkins

A majestic species, subject of many a Scottish glen painting, the red deer is the UK’s largest land mammal. Males, or stags, can weigh up to 190kg and parade an impressive set of highly branched antlers; growing with age, in the wild these can develop as many as 16 branches. In the summer, red deer wear a reddish-brown coat which gives them their name (this turns to grey in winter).

Autumn is a great time to see them as from late September into November the rut takes place. For red deer, this involves males giving almighty performances to demonstrate their dominance. This can include roaring, parallel walking (ie strutting alongside a competing male) and occasionally fighting, where stags come together and clash antlers. These fights can cause serious injury and in some cases death. The victor wins exclusive mating rights with the hind (female) or in many cases a harem of hinds.

Top spots to see red deer

Studley Royal and Fountains Abbey (National Trust)

Thorne Moors

Roe deer

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Roe deer are the smallest of Yorkshire’s common species, with males, known as bucks, weighing around 25kg. Like the red, their coat is reddish-brown in summer, but easily distinguishable features include a black nose, white chin and white rump patch. Bucks also have much smaller antlers than the red, with three points when full grown.

The roe deer rut takes place between mid-July and mid-August. During this time, bucks become aggressive and maintain exclusive territories around does (females), with does chased by the buck until they are ready to mate. Despite the summer rut, the fertilised egg doesn’t start growing until January, with kids being born around May and June. It is thought that this adaptation prevents young from being born in the cold northern winters.

Top spots to see roe deer

Askham Bog Nature Reserve, and the fields around the A64 leaving York

Spurn National Nature Reserve – especially aboard the Spurn Safari

Fallow deer

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Fallow deer. Photo: Gillian Day

Assumed to have been introduced to Great Britain by the Romans, this ornamental species has long been prized by the upper classes. Size-wise they fit between roe and red, with bucks weighing up to 94kg. Their coat is commonly tan-coloured with white spots – although variations do exist. They also have a white rump patch with a characteristic black horseshoe. Buck antlers can grow up to 70cm long and they are the only species in the UK with palmate antlers.

Like red deer, mating takes place in the autumn (October-November). They exhibit similar behaviour – groaning and parallel walking, escalating to fighting in some situations. However, rutting depends on population density: if low, males simply seek out receptive females, but if high, a lek may be established where several males engage in competitive displays.

Top spots to see fallow deer

Studley Royal and Fountains Abbey (National Trust)

Ashberry Nature Reserve near Helmsley

Muntjac deer

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Muntjac. Photo: Don Sutherland

Brought from China to Bedfordshire in the early 20th century, muntjac deer are now widespread and increasing after a number of deliberate releases from deer parks. Known as the ‘barking’ deer, this small, stocky deer resembles a medium/large dog weighing at most 18kg. It has short antlers, a russet brown coat and hunched appearance (with longer back legs).

While it was a species confined to south England and Wales, muntjacs are moving north and there have been sightings in South Yorkshire including at Potteric Carr Nature Reserve.

  • This is a version of an article which originally ran in the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Wildlife Yorkshire magazine. To find out more about the rust, and its many local nature reserves, visit

Take care on country roads

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DEER are beautiful creatures: shy, graceful and utterly captivating when glimpsed flitting into cover across a Yorkshire field in the gathering dusk (writes Stephen Lewis).

They are no respecters of boundaries, however. And with numbers increasing, this means they can stray onto rural roads - and even, at dawn or sunset, onto major routes such as the A64.

I myself recently hit and killed a roe deer on the A64. I was on the westbound carriageway, driving to Manchester airport. It was about 5.30 in the morning. A deer suddenly appeared from nowhere, leaping right in front of me so that there was no chance of avoiding it.

I can still see its frightened face flashing before my eyes. There was a sickening thud, and then it was gone. I stopped, when I could find safe place to do so, but could see no sign of the animal. A colleague later told me, however, that he had seen a dead deer lying at the roadside.

This was a deeply upsetting incident which left me badly shaken. I also left me needing a new car: after driving on for a few minutes, my car broke down, and was subsequently declared a write-off.

When I reported the incident to the police, I was told that collisions with deer were not as uncommon as you might expect, especially early in the morning or at dusk.

A police spokesperson provided The Press with the following advice on how to reduce your risk of running into a deer while driving:

"North Yorkshire Police’s advice is to expect the unexpected when you are driving on rural roads. And be vigilant, particularly around sunrise, and between sunset and midnight when you are more likely to encounter a deer.

"Always assume that where there is one, there are more – they’re generally a herd animal so it’s rare (although not unheard of) for them to travel solo. So if you miss one crossing the road, always assume there will be more following.

"Be aware of the rutting season in the spring and autumn months when more of them are roaming.

"Be extra vigilant if you see a road sign warning of deer or other wild animals.

"They are hard to see, so use main beam when you’re able, the only thing you might see is the glint of an eye in the tree line. If you do, slow down so you can stop safely if you need to.

"Don’t make any severe manoeuvres such as hard braking or swerving as you could endanger yourself and other road users.

"If you do hit one, try and find a safe place to stop if you haven’t been forced to. Be wary of approaching a wounded wild animal – they can be unpredictable: either call a vet or the police and request assistance.

"If you are forced to stop on the carriageway at night, for any reason, ensure that you use your hazard lights and keep your lights on. It is good practice to carry some high-visibility clothing and a torch in your vehicle just in case. A mobile phone light can only manage so much."