Deer rutting season in the New Forest
The rut is the mating season, which for red deer begins in September and lasts until around early November. During this time, competing males, pumped full of testosterone, will engage in a series of behaviours aimed at showing off to the hinds (female red deer) and establishing dominance over the other stags. The master stag will mate with all the hinds in a 'harem' which could be up to 20 or so hinds. The females give birth, after a winter pregnancy, in May or June.
At this time of year, the stags can be seen walking alongside one another threateningly, in a behaviour called parallel walking. They will stamp the ground and roar fiercely. If two stags are of a similar size and these behaviours don't sufficiently establish a winner, they will literally 'lock antlers' and fight for dominance. The fights are ferocious and decisive and the winner takes all.
The rut is an amazing natural spectacle to witness, although people shouldn’t get too close to the competing stags!
The red deer is the largest land mammal in the UK, standing at up to 137 cm tall at shoulder height. The stag's antlers are an outward display of the male deer’s masculinity. The growth of the antlers is driven by testosterone and peaks in the early autumn when the rut starts. The deer's testosterone levels drop in the early winter and the antlers eventually drop off. Regrowth begins again in the spring, usually bigger and better than the year before.
Certain areas of the New Forest are important for the protection of red deer, it’s where they rest and feed. It’s vital that people watch deer from a safe distance and don’t disturb the wild deer. We ask dog owners to make sure their dogs are kept under close control in and around deer conservation areas, and not to let them chase deer.
Unfortunately, each year many people are getting unacceptably close to the deer during the rutting season (mid Sept – early Nov) and are disturbing them. This has dramatically affected deer behaviour with the wild herd not able to move freely into the red deer conservation area, and they have been pushed towards nearby roads.
Key messages for day visitors
To help us manage the wild red deer herds and minimise disturbance and make sure that people can continue to safely watch these deer, please:
- Stay on the main tracks at all times
- Keep dogs under close control when near deer
- Always keep your distance - binoculars are essential!
- Do not approach the deer - they are wild animals
Key messages for drivers
At this time of year drivers should watch out for wild deer on Forest roads at night, or early in the morning. Extra care should be taken if you’re driving on unfamiliar roads and be wary of not just one deer crossing the road, it’s best to stop and wait a moment as they often travel in groups.
Key messages for photographers
Always put the welfare of the deer first:
- Permission is required for commercial photography
- Remember deer are wild animals
- Do not distress wildlife or their habitat
- Respect the routine needs of the subject
- Use appropriate lenses to photograph wild animals to prevent having to approach too close. We recommend a lens with a focal length of 300 mm
- Never surround deer
- If an animal shows any signs of stress or disturbance, move back and use a longer lens
- Acquaint yourself with the fragility of the ecosystem of the New Forest
- Stay on paths that are intended to lessen impact
- Keep 300 meters between yourself and the deer
- When appropriate, inform managers or other authorities of your presence and purpose
- Acquaint yourself with any rules/laws/bylaws of the location, learn more: https://www.forestryengland.uk/sites/default/files/documents/Forestry%20Commission_Byelaws.pdf
- Respect and treat others courteously
- Ask before joining others already photographing in an area
Read about the British Deer Society’s best practice code of conduct for photographers: https://www.bds.org.uk/index.php/photography/photographing-deer/best-practice-code-of-conduct
Taking photographs on New Forest Crown lands - permission is required for commercial photography
Visitors and residents are welcome to take photographs without charge for their own personal (non-commercial) or educational use. However, commercial photography requires our permission.
The permit, charges and terms and conditions for commercial photography vary and we ask people to get in touch with the local Forestry England team and complete a permission application form in advance. This includes the use of trail cameras. You can visit the website for more details and download the application form. Find out more: https://www.forestryengland.uk/article/new-forest-permission-filming-and-photography