by Steve Westerman

Wharfedale Naturalists Society

A FEW days ago, shortly after sunrise, I was walking on Ilkley moor. It was a mild morning, slightly overcast, with just a gentle breeze. I was out before the dog walkers and joggers so, apart from the birds, there was little movement. My goal had been to see whether the migratory ground nesting birds had started to arrive. However, my attention was captured by something much larger. Three roe deer were navigating the vegetation. Just as I saw them, one saw me. It didn’t seem particularly alarmed. I wanted to get a little closer – to see if I could get some photographs - but didn’t want them to feel threatened. I stood still for a little while – and then moved slowly forward, making up some ground. They continued to browse while keeping a wary vigil. They seemed somewhat curious about my presence. As I moved again it was clear that they wanted to maintain a comfortable distance and they started to move slowly away, across the moor. I wasn’t going to press – not that it would have been a very even contest – and so they soon disappeared out of sight. For me it was a great way to start the day. Hopefully it was an interesting experience for them.

Roe deer are one of six species of deer found in the UK. They are native and relatively widespread in many regions (although very sparse in the Midlands, Wales, and Kent, and absent from Ireland). In the winter months they have a greyish-brown coat, with a white rump patch, but in summer their coat becomes a richer reddish-brown. Male roe deer tend to be solitary but, for much of the year, females often live in small family groups within a relatively restricted home territory.

Consistent with this, on subsequent days I have seen the deer again. I think the group comprises an adult and two young females – the latter presumably being fawns from last summer. As I understand it, deer can be unwelcome (at least in numbers) on moors that are managed for grouse shooting – because they host ticks that can infect the grouse. Similarly, deer can be unpopular in forestry areas because of the damage they do, particularly to young trees. Could it be that, on Ilkley moor, these deer have found a good home, where their activities - controlling the vegetation – will be helpful and where their presence will be enjoyed and protected? It would be nice to think so.