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Fallow deer

Dama dama

Native to Asia, the fallow deer was introduced to England by the Normans in the 11th century

Fallow deer1 SS

At a glance

Status

Widespread throughout much of Britain

Shapes the landscape through

Bark stripping, fraying, scraping, wallowing, seed dispersal

Preferred hangout

Woodlands, grasslands, lowlands

Weight

40-60 kg

Length

1.5 metres

Speed

50 km/h

How it shapes the landscape

Like other deer, the fallow deer is a major ecosystem engineer. They mostly graze on grasses and herbs, but also enjoy snacking on young broadleaf trees. The latter encourages the natural regeneration of shrubs and trees. Their grazing and trampling helps to maintain open clearings.

Where it likes to be

Fallow deer like open spaces within broadleaved woodland, where small herds can graze in safety. Pregnant females tend to eat a wide range of grasses, herbs and trees. Their diet follows a seasonal pattern. In the summer months deer tend to be more selective, favouring grasses. Later in the year, they’ll eat nuts, seeds and fruit.

How much space they need

Fallow deer herds tend to like roaming over a few square kilometres, although they often have specific sites they prefer. They will roam further afield if threatened or are struggling for food. In Britain, they have no natural predators and population size needs to be monitored.

Background story
Fallow deer are native to south west Asia and were probably introduced to the Mediterranean region around 9,000 years ago. It’s believed that the Normans introduced them to England for hunting in the 11th century, from where their populations have spread into Wales and up to southern Scotland.

Special power

Fallow deer are the only deer in Britain with palmate antlers, which may give them more sensitive hearing

Can we have them in Britain?

Fallow deer are already present throughout much of Britain. They do not need introducing but landowners might want to consider what impact they are already having, and factor this into any grazing plans.

In summary

  • Resident in Britain since 11th Century
  • Grazes mostly on grasses as well as broadleaved woodland, herbs, nuts and fruit
  • Helps maintain open spaces
  • Only deer in Britain to have palmate antlers
  • Live in herds; group size is tied closely to available habitat

Image: Fallow deer — Honza123/​Shutterstock

Next in Reintroductions and key species

Red deer

Britain’s largest deer species and grandest surviving mammal is a key shaper of landscapes and habitats