Isle of Wight Deer Conservation FAQs

Both red and roe deer are native to the Isle of Wight

Q: Are there any wild deer on the Isle of Wight?

A: Yes, deer of various species have been seen in many parts of the island

Q: Are deer native to the Isle of Wight?

A: Yes, both Red and Roe deer are native to the island

Q: Do deer help to spread wildflower seeds?

A: Yes, this is one of the many ways that deer help to enrich woodland biodiversity.

Rich ground flora found in deer grazed woodlands in nearby Hampshire

Q: Are any of the island’s deer breeding?

A: The presence of young animals indicates that they are.

Q: How many deer are there on the island?

A: The island does not appear to have ever been properly surveyed to determine deer numbers so for now nobody seems to  know.

Q: Can deer swim?

A: Yes, they are strong swimmers and the hollow hairs in their coats add to their buoyancy.

A roe deer swimming close to the Isle of Wight

Q: Can large uncontrolled concentrations of deer like Fallow and Muntjac deer harm the environment?

A: Unfortunately yes, especially in areas where they are poorly managed and there is no best practice based  deer management plan in place.

Q: Are deer beneficial to rewilding?

A: Our special Isle of Wight woodlands evolved in the presence of native Red & Roe deer. Without sufficient grazing pressure from large herbivores such as deer retarding some of the woody regrowth, some of the rich wood edge ground flora and insects that depend on these habitats will die out. The island has already lost plants such as the Wild Gladiolus, and butterflies like the Duke of Burgundy, Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary and Large Pearl Bordered-Fritillary. So it would appear that wild deer can be an essential component of rewilding projects.

Q: Are Nightingales unique to the Isle of Wight?

A: No. According to the BTO Nightingales are migrating birds found primarily across south east England an area which also supports strong populations of wild deer. 

Both nightingales & deer prosper on the Knepp Castle Estate in East Sussex

Q: Did all the island’s deer escape from deer farms?

A: No, Freedom of Information requests with the public authorities reveal that there is no hard evidence of any deer farm escapees on the island

Q: Do red squirrels and dormice co-exist with deer on the island?

A: Archaeological records indicate that native deer, red squirrels and dormice have flourished together in the islands woodlands for thousands of years in the past.

Red squirrels, dormice, red & roe deer are all found on the Isle of Wight – A unique assemblage of woodland mammals in the south of England.

Q: Where can I go to on the island to see wild deer?

A: Almost anywhere out in the countryside, but deer are nervous creatures that do not enjoy human company. Unless you are very lucky the deer will detect you well before you have seen them but do look out for their footprints. If you want to see more easily accessible captive deer on the island Newclose Farm near Carisbrooke has recently opened to visitors.

Q:How do dormice benefit from the presence of wild deer?

A: The light grazing of a well managed native deer population helps to maintain the diversity of species and woodland structure which supports strong dormice populations

Dormice have thrived alongside wild deer on the island since the last Ice Age

Q: Are fallow deer native to the Isle of Wight?

A: In many ways yes. Fallow deer were present across southern England during the last interglacial period but did not survive here during the last ice age. The Romans may have reintroduced them but DNA tests link modern day fallow to the Norman era. They released fallow deer into Parkhurst forest where a population of several hundred of these deer lived right up until the end of the 18th century. Fallow are now described as a naturalised native and the Deer Act treats them identically to the other native species, red and roe.

Q: Which woodland butterflies benefit from the presence of deer?

A: Butterflies that like to feed in woodland clearings such as the Duke of Burgundy, Pearl-Bordered & Small Bordered Fritillary benefit from the grazing action of deer on vigorous plants such as Bramble & Sycamore. When plants such as these are retarded the nectar rich woodland ground flora on which the butterflies feed are able to prosper.

Q: Do deer cause or spread Lyme Disease?

A: No, they are known as incompetent hosts for the causal bacteria  Borrelia burgdorferi, in short the deer’s antibodies deal with the infection without passing it on elsewhere.

Tawny owls benefit from deer activity but are very rarely seen on the Isle of Wight

Q: Which birds & mammals benefit from the presence of deer?

A: Tawny owls are better able to hunt in woodlands that contain some open spaces, without the ability to catch their prey, even if it is present, they will not settle down to breed. Along with the Greater Horseshoe bat they feed their young on the coprophagous insects found in deer dung. 

Q: What deer species are found on the island?

A: Since the start of the 21st century Red, Roe, Fallow, Sika & Muntjac have all been seen here.

Q: How does woodland biodiversity benefit from the presence of deer?

A: Their grazing or browsing helps to slow the progression of some woodland growth to an eventual dense canopy, this helps to provide the mosaic habitats in which numerous woodland creatures thrive including many species of bats, birds, rodents, butterflies & beetles to name just a few. By grazing off more vigorous overgrowths and by seed dispersal in their dung a rich woodland ground flora can develop.


Butterflies can flourish in deer grazed woodland clearings

For periodic updates on the island’s deer please email, if you have seen some deer on the island please take part in the Isle of Wight Deer Survey

Thank you for your interest and support

External links that you may find interesting:-

The British Deer Society – BDS

Photos of deer on the island – Isle of Wight Deer Album


Isle of Wight Wild Deer – A few myths by Isle of Wight Deer Conservation

A red deer hiding in some bracken on the Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight Deer-A few myths

The history of wild deer on the Isle of Wight reflects the neighbouring areas on the mainland coasts of Hampshire & Dorset,with deer populations establishing after the last Ice Age and fluctuating ever since.

Both wild and captive deer probably disappeared altogether from the island in the middle of the 19th century, around the time that the Worsley Estate was sold and carted deer hunting ceased, and only began to be seen again in the wild in the early1970s

Wild deer remain comparatively scarce on the Isle of Wight, Red and Muntjac are probably the most common species with the odd Fallow and Roe or Sika occasionally being seen. Deer are sometimes seen swimming across Southampton Water and the Solent to and from the island.

The general public enjoy the presence of wild deer in the countryside, unfortunately some organisations that are not that kindly disposed towards wild deer have seen fit to make misleading statements about deer, here are a few examples.

A few myths about our resident wild Isle of Wight deer:-

1. There are no wild deer on the Isle of Wight

Many people will have heard that the Isle of Wight has a “deer free status”, the Forestry Commission have recently clarified what they mean by this:- ” This is of course a relative term which compares the minimal deer numbers on the Isle of Wight with significant populations on the mainland”.  Obviously their use of the term “deer free” has been very misleading.

A wild deer on the Isle of Wight

2. Deer are an introduced species like Grey Squirrels and American Mink

There are 6 species of wild deer in the UK, evidence of 5 of which have all been seen on the island in recent years. Red and Roe are native* deer that recolonised England including the land that was to become the Isle of Wight after the last Ice Age, whilst Muntjac, Fallow and Sika are introduced species.

3. They are all deer farm escapes and there are no naturally occurring deer on the island

Red deer and Muntjac have been breeding in the wild for some years now and deer are known to swim across the Solent*.  Between 2000 and 2019 there were no commercial deer farms on the island. In August of 2019 a new deer farm enterprise was launched at Newclose near Carisbrooke, formerly this had been a deer park and they now welcome visitors to come and see their deer.  Roe and Muntjac are not kept in deer farms at all, a FOI request revealed that the Isle of Wight Council  had no evidence to support their claim that there are no naturally occurring deer on the island.

Both red and roe deer are native to the Isle of Wight

No public authority has ever been able to produce firm evidence of any escaped farmed deer on the Isle of Wight when challenged under FOI/EIR regulations

4. The vegetation on Isle of Wight is more lush and varied compared to the mainland and biodiversity is greater due to the relative  absence of deer

The mild  climate and geology of the Isle of Wight are the prime reasons for our vegetation being different from many areas of the mainland** and was recorded as such hundreds of years ago when wild deer were more abundant on the island. Both historical and archaeological records show that our rich woodlands evolved in the presence of wild deer.

Dorset claims greater floral diversity than the island whilst Hampshire claims to have the most varied biodiversity in the country, both of these counties have strong deer populations.

A fantastic floral display in a wood inhabited by Roe deer in Hampshire on the nearby mainland

5. Populations of rare mammals such as Woodland Bats, Red squirrels and Dormice are threatened by the presence of deer

The JNCC report on the status of our wild mammals makes no such claim, in fact bats in particular benefit from deer grazing woodland pastures and rides which enables the butterflies and moths that they feed on to thrive. Some bats also feed on the coprophagous insects found in deer dung. Unfortunately, possibly due to insufficient deer grazing activity, no less than three woodland butterflies have become extinct on the Isle of Wight.

The Duke of Burgundy- recently extinct on the Isle of Wight

6. Nightingales are only found when deer are absent

Nightingales breed mostly south of the Severn-Wash line and east from Dorset to Kent. The highest densities are found in the south east: Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Kent and Sussex, all these counties have significant populations of wild deer. In common with the mainland Nightingale numbers have declined sharply on the island since the second half of the 20th century. BDS Deer & Nightingales

BTO Nightingale Distribution Survey

7.Woodland Biodiversity is harmed by deer

It has been established by scientific research conducted  in North America, Great Britain and Europe that woodland biodiversity is at its greatest when deer are present at low density and decreases when deer are either totally absent or at a very high density.

Scientific research by the Forestry Commission highlights the benefit of modest deer grazing activity

8. In the UK deer spread diseases such as bluetongue

Bluetongue is a non-contagious disease of ruminants found in tropical and subtropical areas that rarely occurs elsewhere, it is carried and spread by the Culicoides imicola midge that cannot overwinter in our climate. No deer within the UK have ever been found to be infected with this virus.

9. Pregnant deer are more damaging to the environment than non-breeding deer

Whether a deer population has positive or negative environmental impacts is primarily down to deer density, i.e. optimum numbers with neither too few or too many (see What happens when you have too few deer?). Apart from a relatively minor positive contribution from the products of parturition to both vertebrate and invertebrate scavengers there appears to be no environmental significance to whether a deer population is breeding or not.

10. Deer cause Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is an infection caused by a group of bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi which are transmitted to humans following a bite from an infected Sheep tick Ixodes ricinus. Despite its name the Sheep tick will feed from a wide variety of mammals and birds. Bites from other ticks are possible, including the Hedgehog tick , Ixodes hexagonus, and the Fox and Badger tick, Ixodes canisuga. These ticks become infected during their larval and nymphal phases by feeding on the small mammals and birds which harbour the Lyme bacterium. Later in their development the infected nymphs and adults transfer the Lyme bacteria to the animals and people on which they feed. On the Isle of Wight there are over 30,000 Sheep and abundant small mammals and wild birds that can perform the role of a host for the Ixodid ticks and the diseases that they carry.  Deer are described as “incompetent hosts” for these Lyme disease causing bacteria and do not transmit the infection back to the ticks.

The important thing is to be aware of the dangers caused by a tick bite and to seek prompt medical help if bitten. Take special care when walking through long damp grass etc. as this is where ticks are found after falling off one host to await the next. More useful information may be found on the Lyme Disease Action Website and in “Science Daily – Lyme Disease: You can’t blame the deer”

*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

** See Isle of Wight AONB Management Plan 2019-2024


Wild Red deer yearling Isle of Wight

Wild Red deer yearling Isle of Wight

For periodic updates on the island’s deer please email, if you have seen some deer on the island please take part in the Isle of Wight Deer Survey

Thank you for your interest and support

External links that you may find interesting:-

The British Deer Society – BDS

Photos of deer on the island – Isle of Wight Deer Album