Five species of deer found in the wild in the UK have been recorded at various times in the New Forest. The four most common species are fallow, roe, sika and red deer, but there are also small numbers of muntjac deer. You are most likely to see fallow deer, which tend to be in groups, or roe deer, which are usually in small clusters.
The New Forest is a great place to look for deer because there is such a large area of undisturbed land for them. The best time of day to see deer is early morning or evening, but you can spot them at any time of day and they are frequently seen on and around the roads and lanes at night - so take care when driving at night.
The best time of year to see deer is during their rut (the mating season). The rutting month varies between species, but mostly it is during the autumn. Stags use their antlers in fearsome trials of strength during the rut (a Middle English word meaning ‘to roar’), and an enraged or injured stag can be a dangerous animal. People and dogs are injured, or even occasionally killed, by particularly aggressive males, so do not approach, and keep dogs under close control.
Although you may not often see the deer themselves, you can frequently see the signs they leave. Look out for their footprints, called slots, and their droppings, looking like large raisins.
Deer can have a huge impact on forestry operations. They cause extensive damage to young trees, either by stripping the leaves in the spring or by eating bark in winter or rubbing the velvet off their antlers in the summer. All of these actions can kill young trees. Many areas have to be deer-fenced to protect the trees until they are large enough to survive being browsed. Also, having no natural predators in the UK, deer numbers can become very high. For these reasons they are culled in many places.
Fallow, sika and red deer are culled in the New Forest to maintain their populations at optimum levels for the wildlife of the woodland and heathland habitats. This has all been set out by the Forestry Commission in its Deer Management Plan.
ID tip - A good way to tell the different species apart is by their size and the colour of their backsides - easy to see when they run away from you