Red Deer Stag image courtesy of Mehmet Karatay CC BY-SA 3.0 license.
The red deer in Great Britain is most commonly associated with upland open moorland habitats, where it lives in sexually segregated herds. However, there is evidence that it prefers woodland habitats, particularly in other parts of its global range (Clutton-Brock and Albon, 1989): in Britain, there are small herds that live in woodland all year round, apparently benefiting from greater foraging resources. In summer, the open habitat populations feed primarily on graminoids (Latham et al., 1999), and prefer areas with grass or heather rides (Welch et al., 1990). In winter, these populations move to lower ground in search of grazing opportunities and shelter, switching to foraging primarily on heather (Latham et al., 1999). Although afforestation has resulted in a loss of some traditional overwintering habitat, the red deer has become established in plantations. It is managed by culling throughout its range, largely for sport and food, although recently in some areas also to reduce the impact of grazing on plant — and associated animal — biodiversity in woodlands (Trenkel et al., 1998). On some estates in Scotland, high numbers of red deer are promoted by winter feeding and reduced culling in order to increase numbers for sport hunting (Putman and Staines, 2004).
Native, although most populations, including all those in Wales, are relatively recent re-introductions.
Conservation Status -
• IUCN Red List (GB: LC; England: [LC]; Scotland: [LC]; Wales: [LC]; Global: LC). • This species has not been assessed for Article 17 of the EU Habitats Directive.
The roe deer is a typical browser, and feeds selectively on only the most digestible plant matter, such as leaves, flower-heads, seedlings and forbs (Latham et al., 1999). Forest habitats with richer food plant biomass such as young stands, forest rides and edges are favoured (Gill et al., 1996), but it will also utilise a wide mosaic of habitats to forage (Danilkin, 1996). It occurs at highest densities in mixed, coniferous or broadleaved woodland, and has benefited from the increase in woodland cover over the last century (see Harris and Yalden, 2008). The behaviour of the roe deer behaviour depends on the fragmentation of woodland habitats. Where woodland patches are numerous and widely distributed, populations are found within these patches; whereas when woodland is clumped and patches are distant, the species takes advantage of open areas instead, congregating in larger herds as distance from woodland increases (Hewison et al., 2001).
Conservation Status, • IUCN Red List (GB: LC; England: [LC]; Scotland: [LC]; Wales: [LC]; Global: LC). • This species has not been assessed for Article 17 of the EU Habitats Directive.
Twelve papers were identified by the literature search. One paper reported the likely geographical range rather than a specific estimate, three contained a total population size without a specified area, and two gave post-breeding density estimate. The same density values were applied to both coniferous and broadleaved woodlands, and these were the only habitat types included in the population estimates. Therefore, sensitivity analyses could not be performed.
The density estimates for woodland are based on large numbers of estimates, encompassing a range of woodland types (7 studies with 47 separate estimates). As a result, confidence intervals are relatively small. Study sites were located throughout England (Gill and Morgan, 2009; Iossa et al., 2009), in the east of England (Hemami et al., 2005; Waber and Dolman, 2015), and in North Yorkshire (Ward et al., 2004; Hemami et al., 2007). However, only a single estimate was available for Wales (Iossa et al., 2009), and none for Scotland. It is therefore likely that the population estimates for England are more robust than those for Wales or Scotland. This review assumes that population sizes can be estimated effectively on the basis of woodland habitats only, despite other habitats being used for foraging. It is possible that woodland patches surrounded by favourable resources (such as arable crops) may support higher roe deer densities than would the same size of patch in continuous woodland. If this is the case, then the computed population size will be an underestimate.
Percentage occupancy was based on surveys from 15 sites only, and may not, therefore, accurately represent occupancy throughout the species’ range.
Scottish Natural Heritage reported a population size estimate of 200,000 to 350,000 for roe deer in Scotland in the 2014 Review of Scotland’s Wild Deer report (Scottish Natural Heritage, 2014), which is significantly higher than our estimate. There is, however, no systematic monitoring of roe deer across different habitats, and estimating roe deer number is difficult as animals seek refuge in sheltered areas (Scottish Natural Heritage, 2016.