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Two melanistic Fallow Deer stand in the snow at our Theydon Bois sanctuary

Fallow deer

Native to the Mediterranean, fallow deer were introduced to Britain by the Normans in the 11th century when they were released into forests as highly prized quarry. Our dark fallow deer are thought to have been introduced to the Forest from Scandinavia by King James I.

Grazing and browsing

Fallow deer are grazers and browsers, and feed on grasses, herbs, trees, shrubs, berries, nuts and bark. They commonly gather in small herds of four to five animals; but sometimes form much larger groups. Fallow deer leave noticeable signs of their presence in a wood. Often, there is a distinct 'browse line' about two metres above the ground where the deer have nibbled the branches.


Males, which are known as bucks, grow new antlers every year. During the rutting season bucks claim their territories forming a bare patch of ground, known as a rutting stand, from where they advertise their presence with loud guttural bellows. Does are attracted to a master buck's territory and he will fight off any rivals, often with tremendous battles of clashing antlers.


After the rut, a doe will gestate offspring for roughly 230 days. A single fawn is born in June, and twins are rare. For the first few weeks of life fawns hide in the shelter of tall vegetation whilst the mother goes to feed. They are particularly vulnerable as they run the risk of discovery by predators such as foxes. In the past, the Forest was closed during the month when the fawns were born. This was known as the 'fence month'.


The 11th Duke of Bedford introduced the muntjac, a small asian deer, to his Woburn estate at the turn of the century. Escapees successfully bred and have now spread over much of the country. They have since become widespread throughout the Epping Forest district.


The muntjac is about the size of a labrador dog, with a characteristic rounded back. They have a rich brown coat. The bucks have small pointed antlers and distinctive protruding canine teeth projecting from the upper jaw as short tusks.


Like the fallow deer, muntjac grow a new set of antlers; but, unlike fallow deer, muntjac lead solitary lives holding individual territories muntjac also breed all year round and the fawns, with their spotted coats, are born relatively large and are capable of running around quite confidently after three days.

Muntjac are also quite secretive animals; although not so shy of humans as fallow. They have spread to the southernmost tip of the Forest, and are regularly seen in urban areas where they frequent gardens.

The deer sanctuary

Concern over the number of deer being killed on the roads led the conservators to establish the Deer Sanctuary in 1959 to retain specimens of the dark-coloured deer. Located to the south west of Theydon Bois, it provides safe grazing for a herd of just over 100 of these special animals. The only other known captive herd of the dark form of fallow deer is at Whipsnade. Deer numbers outside the Sanctuary are monitored on an annual basis, and a number of 'deer glades' have been created to provide safe feeding areas.

Please note, the Deer Sanctuary is not open to the public.

Road Safety

During the construction of the M25, provision was made for the movement of deer across it with the installation of accessible bridges and a deer tunnel.

Unfortunately, the mortality rate for deer is still rising on the very busy Forest roads. Our most recent effort to counteract this involved installing deer reflectors along a number of main roads as part of an ongoing project to reduce the number of road casualties.

Deer management on the Buffer Lands

The long-established fallow deer herd in South West Essex is a valued component of the Forest's ecosystem and an important part of Epping Forest's natural heritage. In response to the absence of natural predators, milder winters and year-round availability of crops, deer numbers have grown rapidly in the past 50 years. In addition to fallow deer, the Reeves' muntjac deer population has grown rapidly since its arrival in the 1970s. Reeves' muntjac are scheduled as an invasive species under Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

The carefully structured management of our deer population ensures that there are a sustainable number of healthy deer for future generations of people to enjoy. Controlling numbers helps restrict damage to the farm crops of tenant farmers and neighbouring landowners and relieves grazing and browsing damage to ancient woodlands. This encourages the natural regeneration of the woodland understorey and ground flora benefiting woodland birds, small mammals and a range of invertebrate and plant species. Reducing deer populations also helps to minimise the incidents of deer-vehicle collisions on local roads.

To the north of Epping Forest, the 'Buffer Land' owned by the City of London Corporation, is 1700 acres of farmland and woodland, some of which is leased to tenant farmers. Regular deer surveys are undertaken across the Buffer Land by Epping Forest staff; keepers and conservation experts. An assessment of numbers of each species and the carrying capacity of the estate then determines the levels needed for a sustainable deer population.

13 January 2016
Last Modified:
07 November 2019