Fallow deer

- Image ID: GEW7FE
Fallow deer
TomsPhotos / Alamy Stock Photo
Image ID: GEW7FE
These elegant deer have long been prized as ornamental species and their history is closely linked to that of deer parks. Fallow deer were first brought to Britain from the western Mediterranean during the Roman period, when they were kept within enclosures known as ‘vivaria’. Genetic analysis has shown that these Roman fallow deer went extinct in Britain following the collapse of the Roman Empire. It was not until the 11th century that fallow deer were reintroduced, this time from the eastern Mediterranean. Initially they were kept in parks as rare exotica but gradually their populations increased and they became an important source of venison for aristocratic tables. As the fashion for deer parks declined in the 15th century, many parks fell into disrepair and these medieval escapee deer are the foundation of the free-living population in Britain today Whilst non-native, fallow deer are considered naturalised and are locally abundant and increasing. They are widespread in England and Wales, but patchy in Scotland, inhabiting mature broadleaf woodland with under-storey, open coniferous woodland and open agricultural land. They prefer to graze grasses although they will take trees and dwarf shrub shoots in autumn and winter. Population density and habitat influence both group size and the degree of sexual segregation. Groups of adult males and females, usually with young, remain apart for most of the year in large woodlands, only coming together to breed. Sexes freely mix in large herds throughout the year in open, agricultural environments. Damage caused by browsing of tree shoots and agricultural crops puts fallow deer in conflict with farmers and foresters and their ability to reach very high densities can result in high local levels of damage. Conversely, many country and forest estates can gain substantial revenue from recreational stalking and/or venison production.