The Isle of Wight’s wild deer have variously been described as introduced, non-native and deer farm escapees, but is this really true?
Wild deer in England, including the Isle of Wight are currently defined as:-
Natives* – Red and Roe deer
Introduced – Fallow deer and Muntjac deer .
So where have these deer come from?
Up until the end of the 20th century there had been several commercial deer farms trading on the island and tourist enterprises that had deer. Today captive deer may be found in parks near Newport and Chale.
Deer may have escaped from some of these establishments , if there are any remaining escapees that originated from an island deer farm left however, they would now be very old animals.
Migration from the mainland
Deer are very athletic creatures on land but what is less well known is that they are strong swimmers that will readily take to the water, especially if they have been disturbed. It is within the normal habits of males of the herding deer, Red Stags and Fallow Bucks, to travel great distances around the time of the rut in the autumn. With Roe deer the situation is slightly different as both sexes may travel significant distances to set up new territories, usually in the spring.
Even as long ago as the early 17thcentury Sir John Oglander remarked on the presence on his land of a distinctive Stag that had swum across from the New Forest whilst being hunted and in the modern era the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust have commented that deer are occasionally seen swimming across the Solent during slack tides. This was probably how the Roe deer whose tracks were seen on the island in 2013 got there as Roe are not usually kept in captivity.
Breeding in the wild
Whatever the origins of the parent stock it is clear from observation of deer with young that these animals are breeding in the wild, again a situation reflected on the mainland where expanding deer populations may be the descendants of both migrating and released deer.
So how do you tell the difference between a wild deer and an escaped farmed deer and why is it so important to know?
The Forestry Commission has helped to defined this:-
“deer that have escaped from captivity and are not visibly marked are considered feral wild deer”
What this means in practice is that unless it has a visible ear tag, collar or brand mark that shows that it belongs to someone and it is not held captive it is a wild deer.
So why is this so important?
Farmed deer like any other livestock always belong to the owner, even if the deer has escaped onto somebody else’s land. If you find such a deer on your property you are entitled to impound the animal and demand payment for any damage done by it from the owner. What you are not entitled to do is kill it and keep the carcase!
Wild deer on the other hand belong to nobody whilst they are still alive. The sporting rights holder of the land on which these deer are found has the right to take and kill these deer outside of the close season at which point the carcase becomes their property. This right may be delegated to another acting on their behalf, e.g. a professional deer manager or a paying guest.
*Native species (indigenous)
A species, subspecies or lower taxon, occurring within its natural range (past and present) and dispersal potential (i.e. within the range it occupies naturally or could occupy without direct or indirect introduction or care by humans)IUCN 2000
For more information on the island’s wild deer please visit the Isle of Wight Deer Conservation website
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