Two roe deer have been much in evidence over the last week or so, often glimpsed out in the open on a piece of newly established plantation forestry. The two roe, a male and a female (known as a buck and a doe), are alert to the presence of my dogs and rarely tolerate our approach. Once we are within 150 metres they are off into the forest. With an upright stance, black nose and moustachial stripe, there is something distinctly regimental about these animals. When disturbed they display a characteristic bounding gait, their white rumps signally that we have been seen and that the deer are confident in their ability to escape any potential pursuit. The rumps of both sexes are creamy-white at this time of the year and are shaped like an upside-down heart. The buck has a pair of small antlers; these are shed between late August and early January, and rarely exceed 30cm in height. Although females do not normally have antlers, there are a few documented records of females with small antlers.
The bucks are territorial at this time of the year, occupying ranges that tend to remain consistent in extent from year to year – even when one buck is replaced by a younger rival. Each male will attempt to defend the territory, and the two or three does it is likely to contain, for several seasons; although it is very unusual for one to hold onto a territory for more than three years. Females are less territorial and their ranges will often overlap with those of other does. The female will have mated back in July or August of last year but, unusually for a deer, she will have delayed implantation of her embryo until late December or early January – the young being born towards the end of May. Twins are common but in good habitats triplets may be produced.
I sometimes hear debates about the origins of our roe, with some observers referring to them as introduced, not indigenous to our countryside. In fact the roe is a native species. It did become extinct throughout much of Britain during historical times and by the beginning of the Eighteenth Century it was thought to be largely restricted to remnant woodlands within the Scottish Highlands. A range expansion followed but this only really took the population back as far south as the Scottish Borders. All of the southern populations are therefore thought to originate from reintroductions from continental Europe. While some are thought to be of Austrian origin, those in East Anglia derive from German stock, being reintroduced in 1884. Whatever their provenance it is certainly good to see these deer in our woodlands.