On the Hougun Manor Estate we sometimes get to see red deer, particularly in winter when our 90 acres of land may have a small herd of red deer grazing on it. Red Deer tend to be found in the Scottish Highlands, East Anglia and Dumfriesshire as well as the Lake District and there are a few small groupings in south-west England.
A male Red Deer - called a stag - is the largest native land mammal in the UK, reaching up to 130cm (4”3”) at the shoulder and weighing up to 127kg (20 stone). ‘Red’ deer can be a misnomer, depending on the season of the year - in winter the deer will change to a greyish-brown colour, whilst their summer coat tends to be more russet or red. The stags have antlers which grow and branch every year, up to the age of about ten, so male deer can be aged by the size of their antlers. There is a specific system for this, a Red Deer with 12 points (six per antler) is a Royal stag, 14 points makes him an Imperial stag and a stag with 16 points or more is called a Monarch - hence the famous painting The Monarch of the Glen, although Landseer clearly didn’t understand the system when he named his painting as his deer only has six points per antler and is therefore just a Royal!
Our own Cumbrian Red Deer tend to live in two different environments which have actually changed their physical appearance. The upland herds, found mainly on the Martindale Estate, have spent 300 years adapting to an unusual open ground habitat. They’ve done it so well that the herd has divided several times and new herds have formed at Thirlmere and Armboth Fell - interestingly, these upland deer are a little smaller than their woodland relatives. The woodland herds are found in Grizedal, Rusland and at the head of Morecambe Bay. A more varied diet and possibly the ability to hide from view rather than having to keep moving to escape scrutiny means that these woodland Red Deer are a few inches taller and a little heavier than the open ground ones.
All Red Deer herds are led by the senior female deer (or hind) and throughout the year these herds of females and young will interact with other herds, apart from during the autumn rut when stags will join and protect their chosen herds and fight other stags to maintain their right to the females. For the rest of the year, the stags live solitary lives. Red deer hinds give birth between May and July and in some areas you may find notices to this effect in parts of the Lake District, encouraging dog owners to keep their animals on leads to avoid newborn deer being harmed.