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Fallow Deer in West Wales

Reproduced from my monthly Nature Notes column in the Carmarthen Journal 28th October 2020

This is the time of year when we may be lucky enough to observe deer during their annual rut. I have been able to hear the blood curdling bellows and groans of the fallow bucks on several occasions this past week as they have strutted around their territories, showing off their suitability as a breeding male. If you are very lucky, you may even get to see the strongest males battling it out head to head, using their magnificent palmate antlers as weapons in a competition to identify who will be the successful choice for the does to mate with.

Autumn 2020 at Dinefwr park, Llandeilo

My best sightings of the rut have been at Dinefwr Park in recent years, although there were many impressive sightings of bellowing bucks to be had at Gelli Aur in years gone by. Fallow deer are the most common deer species in Wales and were introduced to the UK around 2000 years ago but possibly died out after the collapse of the Roman Empire. They were probably reintroduced in the 11th century. Herds tend to be managed so that humans and deer can live alongside each other, and deer parks have been in existence since Medieval times. In Carmarthenshire, a deer park is shown on a map of Llansteffan dating back to the 14th century.  Whereas, the Tywi valley herds date from the 18th century and are associated with the mansions of Golden Grove and Newton House – many of the deer around Gelli Aur today are descended from the deer park herd and have established themselves in the surrounding woodland and countryside, providing drivers with the occasional treat (or shock!) on their way to and from work at dawn and dusk.

All the following photos are of deer from the Gelli Aur area – taken in either 2009 or 2011

Fallow deer are the only UK deer to have palmate antlers. The males develop these around 3-4 years of age after the rut is over, the antlers are shed in spring and regrown by the summer, I have yet to find any on my walks but I’d love to have a pair.

The does separate from their herd so they can give birth to their fawns in June, and who can resist the cute Bambi-like youngsters safely hiding away in the bracken, or pronking in alarm before taking flight. The does and fawns return to their herds around July. The terms used to describe members of deer families varies from species to species. Males, females and young are known as stags, hinds and calves in the Red and Sika deer species. Fallow, Roe, Muntjac and Chinese water deer have bucks and does. The young have different names but in our familiar Fallow species they are called fawns.

2018 Dinefwr

I enjoy spotting the various individuals in the herd at Dinefwr. They can be told apart by the male’s antler shapes and sizes and by their colouring. Their common colour – a light brown which gives rise to their name ‘fallow’ tends to turn greyer in winter and some individuals are melanistic dark brown/black; others are white with subtle markings; there is another colour combination called menil, which is paler with white spots all year round.

As we enter a couple of weeks of limited travel I will probably miss this years battles between males but I know they have started and have had the pleasure of seeing some photographs taken by a young nature lover Megan George who has allowed me to share with them with you. Thank you Megan.

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