Natural Living: Buck And Doe
by Ruth Lawrence
Ruth Lawrence has been enthralled to have some intriguing visitors over the winter months, and is looking forward to seeing a bit more of them, hopefully with some new additions in the summer.
This winter I’ve been lucky to have three roe deer regularly visit the garden. Appearing more frequently in the morning, they seem to arrive from nowhere, brown coats perfectly camouflaged against tree trunks and delicate legs picking through long grass.
The roe is native to this country, having lived here for up to ten thousand years. They became extinct in England by 1800 due to over hunting and forest clearance but remained in Scotland in wooded patches. Reintroductions during Victorian times and the subsequent natural spread, helped by woodland planting in the 20th century means that they are abundant today.
Although they prefer woodland, they may occupy fields when their populations become dense. They are selective browsers, actively choosing different foods including herbs, brambles, ivy, heather, bilberry and tree shoots.
The young buck who I have seen with his two does has recently started to shed the velvet on his antlers, revealing the rough surface and the three points, or ‘tines’ on each. The roes have black noses, white chins and a white rump patch which is sometimes the only way to spot them among brown foliage and fallen leaves.
Although they are usually solitary, winter sees them forming small groups and they are active through night and day, peak activity occurring at dawn and dusk. When not feeding, they lie down to ruminate between eating and they can spend long periods resting like this. The breeding season or ‘rut’ happens between mid July and August and can lead to serious injury for the bucks who fight to maintain exclusive territories around one or more does. The winner will take over the loser’s territory or the attendant doe and courtship begins. The kids are usually born between May and June and often in twos or threes.
Although it is not too difficult to see deer in any reasonably sized woodland, they are wary of humans and take flight at the slightest scare; you have to keep very still and quiet if you wish to observe them for any length of time. If you want to take photos of deer, a long lens is a must; it will enable you to get closer while maintaining the distance required to avoid spooking them. If they do take fright and run, you will witness the fluid, bounding leap that covers ground with elegance and speed.
It’s always a thrill to spot such a large wild mammal out on a walk; roe deer are the only native deer on the Ashdown Forest and there are around two dozen family groups there, mainly on the edge of agricultural land. I’m looking forward to summer and the possibility of young roe deer, or kids, visiting the garden with the does when the days have lengthened.