GWCT National Gamebag Census & Tracking Mammals Partnership

Red deer Cervus elaphus

Taxonomy: Class: Mammalia; Order: Artiodactyla; Family: Cervidae

Description

Red deer photo
Red deer © Peter Thompson

The red deer is the largest land animal in the UK, standing over 1.2 m to the shoulder. The male has large antlers, shed in winter. The species was extinct across much of England, Wales and lowland Scotland by the late 1700s owing to deforestation and human disturbance. It subsequently increased in Scotland because of the stalking interest. The red deer is most widespread on moorland, but is also found in woodland and farmland fringes. It can cause considerable damage to forestry, and to a lesser extent to agricultural crops. Stags may be shot from 1 August to 30 April, hinds from 1 November to 31 March.

Further information:
Mammal Society website red deer page.

Conservation status and legislation

Status:
UK: Native
World: Least Concern (IUCN Red List)

Legislation:
 
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Source: National Biodiversity Network and its data providers, who bear
no responsibility for interpretation of the 10x10-km grid map
 

Distribution and abundance

The red deer's traditional stronghold is in Scotland, particularly the Highlands, the south-west and the major islands. There are concentrations also in north-west and south-west England, Hampshire and East Anglia. Numerous other scattered populations exist across England, Wales and N Ireland.

Estimates of red deer abundance (numbers of individuals in the spring) across the UK, from Harris et al. (1995):

United Kingdom 360,000
England 12,500
Scotland 347,000
Wales 50
N Ireland no estimate

Recent trends from the National Gamebag Census

United Kingdom

Index of bag density from 1961 to 2009 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations).
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Red deer trend United Kingdom

There has been a significant increase in the bag index between 1961 and 2009, with stabilisation between 1995 and 2009. This reflects the ongoing range expansion and increasing abundance of the species (see maps) as it recovered from its past very low densities across much of the UK. The increase was probably due to a combination of underculling of females, improved food resources through afforestation, milder winters leading to better overwinter survival and reduced competition with hill sheep.

Change in red deer bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
United Kingdom 246 1961 2009 174*
85 to 376
40*
23 to 60
-1
-9 to 7

* significant at P < 0.05

England

Index of bag density from 1983 to 2009 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations).
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Red deer trend England

There has been a significant increase in the index of bag density between 1983 and 1995, with stabilisation between 1995 and 2009. Although no sites reported bags during the 1960s, two sites reported the animal during the 1970s. This reflects the ongoing range expansion and increasing abundance of the species (see maps) as it recovered from its past very low densities. The increase was probably due to a combination of underculling of females, improved food resources through afforestation, milder winters leading to better overwinter survival and reduced competition with hill sheep.

Change in red deer bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
England 39 1983 2009 158*
72 to 609
133*
63 to 532
12
-36 to 185

* significant at P < 0.05

Scotland

Index of bag density from 1961 to 2009 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations).
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Red deer trend Scotland

There has been a significant increase in the index of bag density between 1961 and 1992, with stabilisation between 1995 and 2009. This reflects ongoing husbandry by stalking interests and range expansion in the lowlands (see maps) as the species recovers from its past low densities. The increase was probably also helped by underculling of females, improved food resources through afforestation, milder winters leading to better overwinter survival and reduced competition with hill sheep.

Change in red deer bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
Scotland 203 1961 2009 173*
73 to 369
39*
22 to 57
-1
-9 to 7

* significant at P < 0.05

Wales

There are too few bag records of red deer to produce an index graph. Red deer trend Wales

 

There are too few bag records of red deer to evaluate rates of change over time

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
Wales Too few sites

N Ireland

There are too few bag records of red deer to produce an index graph. Red deer trend N Ireland

 

There are too few bag records of red deer to evaluate rates of change over time

Country Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
N Ireland Too few sites

Environmental zones

Change in red deer bags over time, with 95% confidence limits (see statistical methods):

Environmental zone Sites Start
year
End
year
Change (%)
1961-2009
Change (%)
1984-2009
Change (%)
1995-2009
Easterly lowlands (England/Wales) 26 1995 2009 no data no data -10
-53 to 269
Westerly lowlands (England/Wales) Too few sites
Uplands (England/Wales) Too few sites
Lowlands (Scotland) 16 1961 2009 142*
80 to 175
15
-17 to 65
3
-32 to 59
Intermediate uplands/islands (Scotland) 34 1961 2009 151*
18 to 840
35*
10 to 70
-7
-16 to 5
True uplands (Scotland) 154 1961 2009 181*
67 to 401
41*
21 to 65
0
-10 to 12

* significant at P < 0.05

Comparison with BBS mammal data

Since 1995, data on red deer abundance have been collected under the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) organised by the British Trust for Ornithology. Below, the UK trend from the NGC is compared to the one from the BBS (from 1995 onwards).

NGC index of bag density (blue) and BBS index of abundance (red), from 1995 to 2009.
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Red deer: comparison of UK trends from GWCT and BTO

The BBS and NGC trends in red deer indices have been relatively stable between 1995 and 2008, with no significant increases. The confidence intervals of the BBS and NGC estimates overlap widely, suggesting that the two surveys are measuring the same trend.

Long-term trend from the National Gamebag Census

Index of bag density from 1901 to 2009 (see statistical methods and interpretational considerations).
Error bars represent 95% confidence intervals.

Red deer long-term trend UK

The bag index was relatively stable up to the 1960s, but then underwent a significant and sustained increase until 1995, when it again stablised. The period of increase reflects the ongoing range expansion and increasing abundance of the species (see maps) as it recovered from its past low densities. Why the increase began when it did was probably due to a combination of underculling of females, improved food resources through afforestation, milder winters leading to better overwinter survival and reduced competition with hill sheep.

References and further reading

  • Battersby,J. (2005). UK Mammals: Species Status and Population Trends. Joint Nature Conservation Committee/Tracking Mammals Partnership, Peterborough (JNCC download page).
  • Clutton-Brock,T.H. & Albon,S.D. (1989). Red Deer In the Highlands. BSP Professional Books, Blackwell, London.
  • Deer Initiative (2008). Species Ecology: Red Deer. England & Wales Best Practice Guides, The Deer Initiative, Chirk (PDF file - 4,682 KB).
  • Harris,S., Morris,P., Wray,S. & Yalden,D.W. (1995). A Review of British Mammals: Population Estimates and Conservation Status of British Mammals Other than Cetaceans. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough (JNCC download page).
  • Harris,S. & Yalden,D.W. (2008). Mammals of the British Isles: Handbook, 4th edition. Mammal Society, Southampton.

This report should be cited as: Aebischer,N.J., Davey,P.D. & Kingdon,N.G. (2011). National Gamebag Census: Mammal Trends to 2009. Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Fordingbridge (http://www.gwct.org.uk/ngcmammals).

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