The most common deer in the area are Fallow. Fallow deer are our second largest deer after Red Deer. It was originally thought they were brought to the UK by the Normans (for hunting) but more recent discoveries have found a small population dating back to the first century AD. The name ‘Fallow’ means ‘pale brown colour’ (the colour of a ‘fallow’ field) and reflects their typical colouration, although there are many variations from almost black to ‘leucistic’ (white). Natural selection would suggest the leucistic variety, being more obvious, would have died out because they are easier for predators to find.
However, Fallow Deer have no predators apart from man – specifically cars – and it could be argued that their white coloration is protective on the roads because they are easier to see. The brown Fallow Deer are actually chestnut in colour and their coats have white spots, especially in summer, and white under-bellies.
The male (buck) develops large Palmate (hand-shaped) antlers from the age of about three. The older the buck, the larger his antlers. Like other deer species, bucks shed their antlers every year and regrow slightly larger ones. The does do not have antlers. During the rutting season in the autumn, the bucks typically form Leks where they display to the does.
Bucks will sometimes fight to the death but more often, after sizing each other up, the weaker male will give in. In autumn there can be large mixed herds but the rest of the year they tend to separate into bachelor herds and females.
Does give birth in the late spring, usually to a single fawn.
The doe will leave the herd and give birth alone. She will hide her fawn in the dappled grass where it remains motionless, returning every four hours or so to nurse it. The doe and fawn remain separate from the herd until the fawn is strong enough to follow its mother (around 4-6 weeks).
Fallow Deer can potentially do a lot of damage to the environment. They are, by nature, forest dwellers but when they over-graze the woodlands they can have significant impact on species which need thick undergrowth to nest (especially birds like Nightingales). Having no natural predators, sadly the only option is a managed cull to control numbers.
The best time to see these beautiful creatures is at dawn and dusk. There is often a herd along the Hay Lane/Hull lane path, another in the woods at Braughing Friars, and they are commonly seen around Rotten Row. Watch out on the roads at night. If you see one you can bet your life there are many more behind!