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

Swimming Deer by Isle of Wight Deer Conservation

An Isle of Wight Roe Deer

Swimming Deer

One of the lesser known facts about deer is that as well as being very athletic creatures on land they are also strong and able swimmers that will readily take to the water. They are known to naturally disperse and migrate across lakes, strong flowing rivers and arms of the sea.

Deer have hollow body hairs which assist buoyancy and have strong hind legs which enable them to swim long distances, up to 10 miles have been claimed from the United States.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources Whitetail deer, a close relative of our native Roe, can swim at 13 mph, this compares favourably with the Lymington to Yarmouth ferry which struggles to top 9 mph on its 5 mile crossing.

Around the coast of the UK Red, Roe, Sika and Muntjac are often seen swimming, whilst paradoxically the marsh dwelling Chinese Water Deer appears to be the species least likely to be seen in the sea.

A muntjac swims off Portsmouth Harbour

The Solent is no exception to this and island status poses no barrier to deer migrating from the mainland to the Isle of Wight and back again. Even as long ago as the 17th century Sir John Oglander recounts the tale of a distinctive red deer stag that swum across to the island whilst being hunted and took up residence on his Rowborough estate. He tells of how this deer used to disappear during the rut only to reappear afterwards and his belief was that it returned to the mainland during this time, this is entirely within what we now know to be the habits of rutting red deer stags.

More recently in both the 20th and current century Roe and Muntjac have been photographed swimming in the Solent and their presence has been described by members of the public and conservation groups such as the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

Isle of Wight Deer Conservation are currently conducting a survey of the island’s deer population, including those seen swimming around the Solent and coastal areas.


Swimming deer like this Roe close to the island’s coast can easily go unnoticed

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 Deer Conservation – Aims and Principles

Red deer are the larger of the two deer species native to the Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight Deer Conservation Aims and Principles

Deer have been re-emerging in the wild on the island since the 1970’s with evidence of both of the native species, Red and Roe, being reported and also the introduced species, Fallow and Muntjac. With good populations of Sika along the northern shores of the western Solent it is unsurprising to occasionally see them here too.
The presence of deer in the countryside can add greatly to people’s enjoyment of it and the Isle of Wight is no exception to this. We believe that competently managed wild deer can be a positive asset to the island’s biodiversity and economy.
Isle of Wight Deer Conservation was founded in 2015 by a group of qualified deer managers, farmers and landowners interested in maintaining a sustainable population of deer in the wild on the Isle of Wight, ethically managed within the principles of Best Practice.

Muntjac first escaped into the wild on the Isle of Wight in 1976

Deer management goes far beyond simply culling animals and it is the aim of our group to record and exchange details of deer sightings, numbers and species, their age range and any resulting impacts that they may be having on agriculture and the environment.

With this knowledge based approach to local deer conservation and management it is our intention to assist our supporting landowners in keeping stable populations of deer at the modest densities known to be beneficial and by helping to mitigate any adverse localised deer impacts that may occur to agriculture or sensitive environments.

Fallow deer like these were introduced to the Isle of Wight by the Normans

If you support the aims and principles of Isle of Wight Deer Conservation and wish to learn more about deer in the wild on the island please visit Isle of Wight Deer or email us at

For greater details of wild deer within the UK please visit the British Deer Society website – BDS





A brief history of Isle of Wight Deer by Isle of Wight Deer Conservation

Ancestral deer fossils have been found at Bouldnor on the Isle of Wight


A brief history of Isle of Wight deer

The early ancestors of deer were found on the island* during the Oligocene epoch around 25 million years ago and resembled modern day Muntjac deer. Prior to the last Ice Age Red, Fallow and Roe may have been found there, when this glaciation ended the Red and Roe gradually re-established themselves and were hunted by Mesolithic people.

In the Neolithic Red Deer were to be found co-existing with Dormice and Red Squirrels in woodland in the Undercliff. Both Bronze Age and Roman people are thought to have hunted deer and wild boar on the island and it was the Romans who first reintroduced Fallow deer to England although DNA evidence suggests that these deer have no modern descendants. Little appears to be recorded about deer on the island during the Saxon and Jutish period although the place names of Renham Down and Rancombe respectively have their origins in the down and valley frequented by Roe deer.

The medieval definition of a forest was an unenclosed area preserved for hunting by the royal family, and the Isle of Wight was no exception. Fallow deer were released into Parkhurst Forest on the island following the Norman Conquest and were to found there for around 700 years afterwards.  With the Lords of the Island enjoying from the King the right of free forest and the privilege of taking or driving stags or harts.

Red Squirrels & Dormice have thrived alongside the island’s deer since the last Ice Age

Three huntsmen sent by Henry III spent eighteen days in Parkhurst Forest until, with twenty hounds and twelve greyhounds, they had caught the hundred deer required to grace the young king’s table with venison. By 1279 Isabella de Fortibus had already claimed from Edward I the liberty of a free chase in the Forest, which was subsequently granted in Edward II’s reign to the royal favourite Piers Gaveston.

Edward III imposed on one John Maltravers that he should, in the season for buck-hunting, attend the king at Carisbrooke Castle; during his reign, in 1333, sundry poachers were prosecuted for entering the king’s park and taking deer, and continual prosecutions followed. Parkhurst annually provided the Lords with thirty bucks and a crop of rabbits, while 150 cattle, forty pigs and a large number of geese were also turned out onto the pastures.

Borthwood Forest also served as a hunting ground for deer, and in 1415 was granted by Henry V to Philippa, Duchess of York, with a small building called the Queen’s Bower in an eminent position, from which she would perhaps view the chase. There are at least two other claimants to this title. Queen Anne (1702-14) is also said to have had a ‘bower’ or arbour here, when she came at certain seasons for the excellent hawking; an alternative tradition claims that it was Isabella herself who had a hunting-box here as far back as the 13th century, in what was then extensive forest. Sir Richard Worsley describes how “Bordwood probably obtained its name from being a large waste land belonging to the Lord, overgrown with wood and serving as a harbour for red deer”.

A Pair of Magnificent Fallow Bucks – Present in Parkhurst for around 700 years until the end of the 18th century

Birchmore  also formed part of the hunting ground of the early Lords of the Island, and was another liberty granted to Isabella in 1279. Old Park within the Undercliff was a sanctuary for wild animals and reserved for hunting from the Late Middle Ages.

Early in Edward II’s reign, 1309, a charter was granted to John de Insula and his heirs of free warren, a privilege which had been granted a few years earlier to the De Insulas on the adjoining estates of Bonchurch and Rew. Old Park lay within the medieval parish of Whitwell, and an indenture as late as 1689 recites the manorial rights to the Whitwell estate, reserving the rights of fowling, hawking and hunting – and thereby re-confirming privileges conferred by the charter granted nearly four centuries earlier.

Writing in the 1st half of the 17th century the Oglander memoirs describes:-“Deer were not plentiful except in the parks of the gentry and some that run wild in Parkhurst Forest”And then recounts the tale of a stag that swam the across the Solent:-“There wase a stagge hunted out of ye Newe Fforest into ye Iland in AnoDom. 1609 and lived many years in ye Iland; he was mutch in Rowberoe and in my grounds at Artingshoote and Whitefield. Ye king had a great desyore to hunt him, but was diswaded from itt;for it wase almoste imposible to kill him, becawse on all occasions he woold take ye seae. Itt was thought he went into ye New Fforest to rutt, and retourned again.”

A resting Roe doe, the smaller of the two deer species native to the Isle of Wight

There were numerous medieval deer parks on the island, these were relatively small enclosures averaging about 200 acres enclosed by a bank and ditch with a deer proof paling fence. Within these the deer were bred for meat.

The Domesday Book records the creation of ‘The King’s Park’ at Watchingwell, thereby predating 1086, and one of the oldest known deer parks in England. Situated in the south-west corner of the vastly more extensive Parkhurst Forest, it was separated by the track which later became known as Betty Haunt Lane, most likely meaning ‘between the haunts’, an appropriate name for a lane dividing two ‘deer haunts’. A similar use of the word ‘haunt’ occurs in the name ‘Dogs Ant‘, which is marked on an 1862 map in the north-west corner of Parkhurst Forest.

There was a deer park in the Shalfleet area by the later 13th century, for in 1278 Henry Trenchard complained that Amice, Countess of Devon, and her men had taken thirty of his oxen at Chessell and detained them at her manor at Thorley; moreover, they had broken his park of Chessell and “rescued the beasts lawfully impounded therein” and driven off the deer from his park at Shalfleet.

In 1441 Lewis and Alice Meux were given licence to create a deer park out of three hundred acres of woodland and pasture in the parishes of Kingston and Shorwell. In 1650 Watchingwell Park is recorded as having nine score deer of various sorts and in 1770 the Surveyor General had reported that Parkhurst Forest contained about 3,043 acres and about 200 head of deer. At the time of its disafforestation in 1812 it contained about 2,500 acres, including the enclosed part, 415 acres in extent. Deer were kept on various estates and released into the wild for hunting into the 1840’s and it is reported that they used to escape from Appuldurcombe Park and range throughout the island.

*The Isle of Wight did not become a separate entity from the mainland until around 7000 years ago

With thanks to all those who assisted in sourcing the original material for this article, including the IW County Archaeological Service, Maurice Paul Stafford-Bower and Alan R Phillips Extracts for this historical section have been reproduced with the author’s permission from Cock & Bull Stories : Animals in Isle of Wight Folklore, Dialect and Cultural History, by Alan R Phillips (Newport, IOW:2008).

Red deer hiding in woodland on the 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

What happens to woodland wildlife when you have too few deer? by Isle of Wight Deer Conservation

Deer in woodland on the Isle of Wight

What happens when you have too few deer?

The risks posed to woodland ecosystems by having too many deer are well publicised but deer in more moderate numbers are extremely beneficial to woodland biodiversity.  What is less well known is that if there are too few deer around this can also be very damaging to the environment.

What are the damaging signs of having too few deer?

Typically a reduction in species diversity with fewer more vigorous species coming to dominate, habitats such as wood pasture and edge begin to disappear together with the fauna and flora found there.

So how might this manifest itself on the Isle of Wight?

We can expect subtle long term changes to our woodland flora with vulnerable species being most at risk. One such plant, the Wood Calamint, which is unique to the island within the UK, has suffered due to mature over growths of Hazel, as a result it is now very much endangered. This rare plant does not enjoy being shaded by more vigorous vegetation, likewise the heathland habitat of the very scarce Reddish buff moth is threatened by woody encroachment, deer grazing is a natural process that helps to prevent this.

Forestry Commission Research highlights the negative environmental impacts of both too many and too few deer being present in woodland (Source FB 18 How Many Deer?)

Are there any examples of damage to the island’s woodlands that has already occurred?

The Forestry Commission have said that in Parkhurst Forest “Rare, remnant pre-enclosure pasture woodland and open heath grassland species have hung on in the post-enclosure high forest but are under threat from the un­checked growth of vegetation.”

Parkhurst was originally a hunting preserve for the nobility, before the forest was enclosed in the early 19thcentury these pastures benefited by being grazed by around 200 deer.

So why are wood pasture habitats so important?

Wood pasture contains a diversity of flowering species, and are important feeding grounds for lepidoptera, whilst many of our woodland bats feed on invertebrates found there. One of our rarest, the Greater Horseshoe, benefits from feeding on the beetles found in deer dung.  Woodland butterflies such as the very rare Pearl Bordered Fritillary thrives where deer grazing slows down natural regeneration and helps to maintain open areas of Bracken in canopy gaps and along woodland edges. Regrettably the Isle of Wight has recently lost not just its Pearl-Bordered Fritillary but also the Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary and Duke of Burgundy butterflies as well.

Pearl-Bordered Fritillary Butterfly – Several species of woodland butterflies have recently been lost to the Isle of Wight, possibly due to insufficient deer browsing activity

Is there any other evidence of long term damage caused by over growths of vegetation in Parkhurst Forest?

The Wessex Lichens group have reported that some areas are “desperately overgrown with even the rides lost to dense bramble with an under storey of Sycamore between the trees” and that “the forest’s lichen old woodland assemblages are suffering from increasing and dense shade”

Are any of the island’s birds being affected by the lack of sufficient deer grazing?

Three birds that are common in the New Forest but largely absent from the Isle of Wight are the Tawny Owl, Common Redstart and Nuthatch, beetles such as those associated with deer dung can be an important part of these bird’s diet. Recent research from the Knepp Estate in Sussex reveals that both the diversity and abundance of these beetles is far greater when there are free-roaming large herbivores like deer present.

dung beetle aphod f

Dung beetles such as these are found in native roe deer droppings

The Tawny Owl also feeds on Wood Mice and Bank Voles. In order to catch these small mammals they require some of the habitat within woodlands to be more open without a large amount of dense cover.  The Common  Redstart also prefers these more open woodland areas that deer grazing and browsing helps to create.  It would appear that our local woods are no longer suitable for these birds.

So what might be the best approach to managing deer in the Isle of Wight’s woodlands?

Trinity College, Dublin has recently published some interesting research Exclusion of large herbivores: Long-term changes within the plant community in which they found that excluding deer from Oak woods was harmful to biodiversity, to quote one of the authors, Dr Miles Newman ” Woodland ecology, it seems is a little like life- it’s often best to do things in moderation. If there is too much or too little grazing, these important habitats may lose valuable species for good.”

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



The Isle of Wight Forest Design Plan

Red deer hind & calf – Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight Forest Design Plan

In 2017 the Forestry Commission launched a consultation on their Isle of Wight Forest Design Plan, this is how we responded:-

The Isle of Wight’s rich woodlands evolved in presence of wild deer1,2,3,4, , in common with much of southern England these deer populations declined during the 18th century and had disappeared by the mid 19thcentury, only to re-emerge again in the late 20th century.  On the mainland these re-emerging deer have descended from a mixture of escapees from captivity, re-introductions and the natural spread of wild deer, the same appears to be true of the island’s deer. There is no evidence to support claims that there are no naturally occurring deer on the island16.

Of the five deer species 17that have been seen on the island in recent years both the Red and Roe have the distinction of being amongst the island’s scarcest native woodland mammals.

Scientific research including that done by the Forestry Commission indicates that both having too many and too few deer is detrimental to biodiversity 5,6,7,8.  There is circumstantial evidence that despite the richness of our woodlands we may be slowly losing both flora and fauna species* as a result of the relative scarcity of deer.  To give but one example some of the woodland birds that are quite commonly found in the New Forest have been described as “curiously absent” from the Isle of Wight9.  Scientific research illustrates the beneficial interactions of deer activity with these birds10,11 .

Tawny Owls are scarce on the Isle of Wight, possibly due to insufficient deer grazing activity

The Isle of Wight Forest Design Plan sets itself the objective:-

“To maintain and enhance the favourable conservation status of a naturally important wildlife site”.*

Heathland, Acid Grassland and Wood Pasture are mentioned as priority habitats and the Design Plan acknowledges that many of these were once grazed by deer. These grazing activities helped to maintain floral diversity and aid seed dispersal. 

IW Deer Conservation believes that wild deer have a role to play in maintaining these priority habitats in the future as they have done in the past.

Both the IW Forest Design Plan and South England Forest Deer Management Strategy make various claims pertaining to the absence of deer being of benefit to our unique flora and fauna*, however scientific research indicates that this is not true, and that woodland biodiversity decreases when deer are not present. Both historical and archaeological records indicate that wild deer and the rest of the island’s unique flora and fauna flourished together over thousands of years in our rich woodlands. Claims that any deer present on the island have posed a threat to this unique ecology appear to be without foundation.

Science tells us that biodiversity benefits from at least some deer activity – Source: Forestry Commission FB 18

IW Deer Conservation believes that the biological diversity of the islands woodlands would be best served by the sustainable management of our local deer with the presence of native deer species being prioritised.

The Forestry Commission claim that:-

“Our overall objective for deer management, in line with Government’s aim in England is to maintain a well-managed and healthy deer population, which presents no threat to long term environmental, social or economic sustainability, and to limit as far as is practical, the further spread of recently introduced species”.

Whilst Defra have set out the terms of reference for the management of deer on the public estate12 and have stated that:-

“The Defra  family will continue to manage deer populations on public land at sustainable levels, ensuring best practice at all times”

They have further stated that:-

“Defra policy on wild deer management applies equally across England, and the Isle of Wight is no exception18.”

The Deer Initiative publishes these best practice guides which together with their Vision Statement and Accord set out these minimum acceptable standards for deer management.

Best Practice applies at all times to publicly owned land on the Isle of Wight (source: Defra)


The Isle of Wight is a geographically self-contained area which restricts cross-Solent deer migration, the Forestry Commission claim to have successfully controlled both native and naturalised deer species on the island in the 20th century and to have received widespread support from landowners for doing so. This together with reference to the past history of wild deer on the island indicates that landscape scale deer management for these species is entirely feasible here.

However, it would appear that persecution of these native deer in an ill-conceived attempt  to establish the Isle of Wight as a long term experimental deer free zone13,14,15 may have merely widened the ecological niche for the island’s Muntjac deer to expand into.

Neither the Isle of Wight Forest Design Plan nor the South England Forest Deer Management Strategy (17.Isle of Wight) are compliant with Defra policy, the Forestry Commission’s own policy for the rest of southern England, and the principles set out in the Deer Initiative’s Best Practice, Accord and Vision statements.

This is unacceptable, both the IW Forest Design Plan and South England Deer Management strategy (17.Isle of Wight) clearly need to be urgently revised.

We believe that it will be beneficial to both the island’s deer and woodland ecology if a careful balance is struck between the deer and their environment with neither too few nor too many being present and that all those involved in this deer management should fully acquaint themselves and comply with both the Defra policies and the Accord and Vision Statement of the Deer Initiative

A bona fide deer management plan is necessary for the island and we would like to invite the Forestry Commission to participate in further discussions regarding the drafting of such a plan. 

If you have any comments to make about this submission or would like further information on the issues raised please contact Isle of Wight Deer Conservation by email

Both Red and Roe deer are native to the Isle of Wight

*Since writing our response in 2017 we have discovered that no less than three woodland butterfly species have recently become extinct on the island, these include the Duke of Burgundy, Pearl-Bordered and Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillaries. Typically these butterflies thrive in deer grazed wood pasture habitats.


1 A new, correct, and much-improved history of the Isle of Wight. John Albin 1795

2 A History of the Isle of Wight. Richard Worsley 1781

3 Faunal remains from radiocarbon-dated soils within landslip debris from the Undercliff, Isle of Wight – R.C.Preece

4 The Oglander memoirs. Sir John Oglander (Brannon 1888)

5 Deer Initiative Vision Statement, Accord & Best Practice Guides

6 The Impact of Deer on Woodland Biodiversity FCIN 36, Gill

7 Exclusion of large herbivores: Long-term changes within the plant community. Trinity College, Dublin

8 Forests and Biodiversity UK forestry Standard Guidelines. F.C.

9 Isle of Wight Natural Area Profile, NA 76

10 Impact of deer on woodland invertebrates. AJA Stewart

11 Woodland deer and small mammal ecology. J.R.Flowerdew & S.A.Ellwood

12 The sustainable management of wild deer populations in England. DEFRA 2011

13 Email Andy Page via BDS

14 Parkhurst FDP 2005

15 Correspondence FC Bristol et al

16 FOI requests

17 IW Deer Conservation Survey & related emails

18 Email Defra