Sunday, 16 August 2009

Roe Deer Rescue?

The buzz of insects was almost drowned out by the crackle and hum of the overhead lines, yet, in the marshy grassland beneath the pylons' brooding skeletons, wildlife thrived. Small skippers and gatekeepers skittered over the purple haze of angelica, marsh woundwort and mint, as a roe buck rose from behind the rushes.

This was the eighth roe deer that I had seen in the past month, a perhaps unremarkable fact, given that the UK has more roe deer now than it has done for 1000 years - a total of 800 000 individuals. One of the eight deer that I had encountered was unusually coloured - a white doe, but it was another roe buck that made the greatest impression on me...
I was in deepest Dorset, surveying far from the beaten track, when I stumbled up ground. Alarmed by my sudden appearance, the deer squealed and tried to escape, but, with its front legsscrabbling helplessly in the dirt, it simply pivoted in a circle around useless back legs.Far from a road, it seemed that the deer had injured itself vaulting the gate that it now lay next to. Breathing heavily, the deer lay still again and regarded me with large, dark eyes.I was close enough to see its moist, black nose twitching and the white of its moustache and chin. Worried that I was adding to the deer's distress, I backed off to phone the RSPCA. I left them detailed instructions where to find it, but was unable to do any more.

We sometimes think of wild animals living a care-free existence, but life in the natural world can be tough and many wild creatures come to a violent end. A roe buck will not normally live for longer than 5 years and every year, over 74 000 deer are hit by cars on UK roads. I hope that the RSPCA were able to save the deer, but the sad truth is that there was probably little that could be done for it, except to prevent it from suffering any further.

Back in the marshy grassland, the roe buck turned its antlered head to stare at me. It was a picture of good health, with a coat that glowed russet in the sunshine and a full set of three tines to its antlers. It took a few delicate steps through the tussocks, turned to have one last look, then slipped away through the fence.

Now you do it
Simon Barnes' recent article about roe deer suggests that they are hard to see - I'm not sure that I agree! You are never far from a roe deer in the UK (Northern Ireland, east Kent, some parts of the Midlands and Wales excepted) and being large, conspicuous and not particularly wary, they are easy enough to find. Dawn and dusk are the best times to watch roe deer, as this is when they are most active although, they are active throughout the day, too. They are generally thought of as woodland species, but they can be seen in all sorts of habitats, including arable fields and urban parks. Marshy grassland bordered by woodland is a great place to see them.

It ca
n sometimes be difficult to tell one deer species from another, especially if all you see is a fleeting glimpse. The roe is a small deer, with a reddish-brown coat in the summer that becomes grey, brown or black in the winter. They have a paler (white to buff) rump patch and no visible tail. The bucks have small antlers in the summer and kids have spotted coats for the first 6 weeks of life.The Forestry Commission website lists places that roe deer can be seen.Martin Noble is leading an organised trip to see deer in the New Forest on 10 October 2009, with the chance to see roe. For more information on roe deer, see The British Deer Society website.

Conservation Status
Roe deer are native to Britain. The species is widespread, relatively abundant and experiencing a growth rate of approximately 2.3%. Roe deer are not subject to specific conservation legislation.