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Deer, roe (Capreolus capreolus)

Quick and nimble, the roe is one of our two native deer species.

Scientific name: Capreolus capreolus 

Family: Cervidae

Appearance

Roe deer are relatively small, standing up to 75cm at the shoulder and weighing up to 25kg. The species has bright red-brown fur during the summer, with this changing to a dull brown in the winter. They have black noses, with a white chin and a white rump. Adult males, known as bucks, have small antlers, which many have up to three points.

Where and how to spot

The roe is our most widespread deer species and is found across mainland Britain, but is absent from Ireland. Woodland is their favoured habitat, but they can also be found in fields and farmland. Shy and secretive, your best chance of seeing a roe is a chance encounter while walking in the woods. Should you take a deer by surprise, it will likely bound away with its white rump flashing.

Feeding

Roe deer browse on a variety of plant material, including tree shoots and leaves, herbs and brambles. Find out more about deer diet and other facts here.

Behaviour and breeding

Roe deer are mainly solitary, but may form small groups in winter. Bucks enter the rut in July and August, fighting for access to females (known as does). Prolonged chases between the male and female may occur until the doe is ready to mate.

Typically, one to three young (known as kids) are born in May or June. Kids have a spotted coat that helps to keep them camouflaged until they are old enough to accompany their mother. Most roe deer have a lifespan of no more than 10 years.

Threats

The roe is one of two native UK deer species, with red deer being the other. By the 19th century, the species had disappeared from most of the UK, only remaining in northern Scotland and isolated pockets elsewhere. A combination of reintroductions and positive habitat change has allowed it to recolonise most of the country and the population is still growing.

While the recovery of the species is to be welcomed, the absence of large carnivores in the UK means adult roe deer have no natural predators. Consequently, deer density can reach extremely high levels, with total deer numbers in the UK thought to be at a 1,000-year high. This can have a significant negative impact on the environment, with overgrazing preventing the regeneration of woodland, thereby affecting woodland structure and tree species composition. This has knock-on effects for other species of woodland flora and fauna. For this reason, some deer populations are culled to control their spread and reduce habitat damage. See our position statement on deer.

Did you know?

  • Many of the roe deer in southern England are thought to be descended from individuals introduced from mainland Europe in the 19th century.
  • When alarmed, roe deer often make a barking sound.
  • In the original books, the children’s character Bambi was a roe deer.