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The valley of the deer

Jenny Elliott shares the secrets of the roe deer of the Cerne valley

The Cerne valley is a beautiful area with a diverse wildlife population. The wooded areas make good hiding places for roe deer and the proximity of the crops provides convenient grazing. Twilight is usually the best time to see them out in the open as it is a favourite time for them to feed.

In winter roe deer grow a thick coat; the individual hairs are hollow to insulate them from the bad weather. In late spring they lose their winter coats and so they often look a little dishevelled at this time of year. When the old hair has finally been shed they look beautifully sleek and have a wonderful rich colour.

Only the males have antlers. When new antlers grow they are covered in a thin layer of velvet-like fur. This is rubbed off, revealing new, strong antlers ready for fighting during the rutting season. Rutting takes place during July and August and the resulting fawns are usually born at the end of May. There is a period of ten months between mating and the birth of the kids. For approximately half this time the fertilised embryo does not attach itself to the uterus wall. While the embryo is floating in the uterus it develops at a very slow rate.

At the end of December, or early January, the embryo releases a protein that is the signal for the doe to produce hormones to promote rapid growth. After a short period of very fast growth the embryo attaches to the wall of the uterus and normal foetal growth via a placenta follows for the next five months. This rather prolonged pregnancy is so that fertilisation can take place when food is plentiful and does are in peak condition, and also to ensure the fawns will not be born until the weather is more favourable. A doe will hide her young in the long grass and return to suckle them several times a day for about three months. It is very important never to touch a fawn; the mother may abandon it if it smells of a human.

The life-span of a roe deer is about ten years maximum. Their alarm call is a barking sound and then they will often bounce away, flashing a white rump to warn others of danger. However, so shy are roe deer that the novice observer will do well to see even this in the Cerne valley.

This doe came out of the woods as I was walking by. We were both very surprised. She stamped her foot in disapproval and then took off.

This doe came out of the woods as I was walking by. We were both very surprised. She stamped her foot in disapproval and then took off.

A roe deer backlit by the evening sun. Taken during August in a barley field near my home.

A roe deer backlit by the evening sun. Taken during August in a barley field near my home.

This delightful trio of roe deer were photographed through a very convenient hole in the hedge. I was lucky that the wind was towards me and therefore took my scent and the sound of my footsteps away from them.

This delightful trio of roe deer were photographed through a very convenient hole in the hedge. I was lucky that the wind was towards me and therefore took my scent and the sound of my footsteps away from them.

This roe looked very calmly at my camera and seemed very content to pose as long as I stood still

This roe looked very calmly at my camera and seemed very content to pose as long as I stood still

This little roebuck bounced out of the woods into my path. He is trying to work out what the strange creature he has come across is. He looks a little scruffy because he is losing his winter coat.

This little roebuck bounced out of the woods into my path. He is trying to work out what the strange creature he has come across is. He looks a little scruffy because he is losing his winter coat.

A really beautiful pair of roe deer. This shot was taken just as the sun was about to go down.

A really beautiful pair of roe deer. This shot was taken just as the sun was about to go down.

This roebuck was grazing in a wheat field. I was behind a hedge and managed to get my camera lens through a gap in the brambles.

This roebuck was grazing in a wheat field. I was behind a hedge and managed to get my camera lens through a gap in the brambles.

A roebuck still in velvet, nicely outlined against the sky. This was taken in the middle of the day during March. I usually find the deer are more easily found either early in the morning or as dusk is approaching, so I was very lucky on this particular day.

A roebuck still in velvet, nicely outlined against the sky. This was taken in the middle of the day during March. I usually find the deer are more easily found either early in the morning or as dusk is approaching, so I was very lucky on this particular day.

This pretty little doe is stamping her foot, hoping to frighten me away. After I had taken the shot I crept away and left her to graze in peace.

This pretty little doe is stamping her foot, hoping to frighten me away. After I had taken the shot I crept away and left her to graze in peace.

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