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Portbury Wharf Roe Deer

YES – there really are deer at Portbury Wharf!

Portbury Wharf roe deer come as a surprise to many, as they are very good at hiding themselves. You are most likely to see them at dawn and dusk when they are moving to and from their favourite feeding grounds. Though it is possible to see them at anytime of the day. Look out for them on the reserve fields and on the salt marsh next to the reserve.

About the Portbury Wharf Roe Deer

Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) are the deer you will see at Portbury Wharf.

This is perhaps the prettiest of all our native species. They have big eyes, a glossy black nose, and a smile made up of two white spots on the upper lip and a white bottom lip. Roe are actually quite small deer, their body is about the size and weight of a large labrador dog, but with a long neck and long legs they look much bigger.

In summer they have a short glossy chestnut coat but in winter their coat grows long and thick and is grey-brown in colour.

Did you know?
There are 6 species of deer living wild in Britain. Confusingly some of the sexes have different names, so (male, female, young):

Red Deer     
(stag, hind, calf)  – the largest of our deer
Fallow Deer 
(buck, doe, fawn)
Sika Deer   
(stag, hind, calf)
Chinese Water Deer 
(buck, doe, fawn)
Muntjac Deer 
(buck, doe, kid) –  the smallest of our deer
 Roe Deer     
(buck, doe, kid – sometimes fawn) – this is our deer! 

How to tell the boys from the girls?

Usually this is quite easy. For most deer, except reindeer, if it has antlers it is a male, if not a female. However the roe bucks shed their antlers around November time, so it gets a little trickier then. In winter look out for their white rump, aka the powder-puff and anal tush. The female’s powder puff is generally larger with the tail-like anal tush pointing downwards.

You can just see a downward “tail” on this January doe on the left.  When alarmed deer will puff up this white patch. The doe in the right photo was almost invisible until she bounded off flashing her white rump. The “tell tail” bobbing rear end is sometimes all you will see of the deer!



Roe deer do not live in large herds like fallow and red deer. You will usually see them singly, in pairs or small family groups. However during the winter they may sometimes gather together, perhaps because good browsing is more limited and they have to share.

In this group there were 3 bucks, 3 does and this yearling buck.

Roe bucks shed their antlers in late autumn but it does not take long before new ones start to grow.  If you look very very closely, this December buck above already shows “nobs” of new antlers.

By February these antlers have put on a spurt. A velvety, soft hairy skin covers them and protects them while they grow and harden.

Their antlers are nearly fully grow by March but still covered in velvet. This fine buck was sitting in the North Pool field.


In April and May the blood supply to the velvet dries up and it falls off to reveal fully grown, hardened antlers. Often they will help this process along by rubbing their antlers on posts and tree trunks to remove the velvet.

The deer are at their scruffiest now while they shed their velvet and winter coat to reveal their smart summer outfit.

What is the difference between antlers and horns?
  • Antlers have two or several points. Horns have only one point.
  • Antlers are shed annually in autumn and regrow in spring. Horns are permanent, never shed and never stop growing.
  • Both males and females have horns but it is usually only the male of the species that have antlers.
  • Animals such as bulls, goats and antelopes have horns whereas deer have antlers.

In late May, early June the doe will give birth. Sometimes she gives birth to one kid but twins are quite normal, occasionally triplets. The doe will return often to suckle the kids which she will leave hidden in long grass and hedgerows.

In the first year of their life they are especially vulnerable. Foxes and dogs can kill young deer. Farm machinery and traffic can run them over. A harsh winter can also take its toll on young deer.


In late July and August the rut takes place, this is when the deer mate. The buck will stand his ground, defend his territory from other bucks and will follow a doe around until she is ready to mate. If other does enter his territory he may mate with them as well . . . neither sex is entirely faithful.

The doe will give birth nine months later, though due to delayed implantation the embryo will not start growing until January.


Deer are very good swimmers and Portbury Wharf’s roe deer certainly get plenty of opportunity.

The deer often swim creeks to escape danger or to reach tastier pasture on the other side. However this pair by Portishead pier just went in for a five minute swim at twilight on a cool, pink January morning.  Maybe, they swim more often than we think – the odd midnight dip perhaps?

Of course sometimes swimming is more a necessity than a matter of choice . . .

. . . rest assured this pair escaped their pursuer by swimming across to the safety of the docklands.

Though young deer might not be able to outrun a dog, so if you walk your dogs here please keep them under control and see our advice for Walking your dog.

It is one thing to swim across the creek but what about when the tide is out?

These creeks are lined with thick mud so when the tide is out they have to walk across. When this doe crossed the creek at low tide, the mud came to the top of her legs.  Wading through thick mud with such slender legs must be hard work.

Deer often browse on the salt marsh but even they can get caught out by a rising tide.


Did you know?
  • Only red deer and roe deer are native to Britain
  • Until the 1400s deer had royal protection. Between the 1400s and 1700s roe deer became extinct in England, maybe due to over hunting. They were reintroduction in the 1800s.
  • There are no roe deer in Ireland
  • Since their reintroduction they have thrived and have developed the knack of living in very close proximity to us.


Roe deer always have to be on the alert for predators and rely on hearing, sight, scent and speed. With many footpaths running through their territory at Portbury Wharf they always keep a wary eye out for people and dogs.

Roe deer have an impressive sense of smell so unless you are downwind of them they will know you are there.

Their eyesight is also very good and they can detect movement easily, though if you stand perfectly still and blend into the background they may not be able to distinguish you.

This buck was looking straight at me, or was he?  Surprisingly he continued to walk towards me and sat down in the sun for a morning snooze just a couple of metres away.

This is unusual though as they will normally sense you long before you spot them.  They always pay especially close attention to dog walkers in case they have to make a run for it.



Did you know?

• Roe deer can reach speeds of up to 37 mph
• Roe deer may bark when alarmed or disturbed


Roe deer eat a wide range of vegetation from the lip-smacking salty herbs found on the salt marsh to holly, ivy, brambles, grasses, low-hanging tree leaves, berries and crops . . . almost anything. Though they tend to avoid pasture grazed by cows and sheep, preferring “clean” pasture.

Having such a varied diet may go someway to explain why they have spread so successfully.

Signs of deer

You may not see the deer but you may see their slots left in the soft mud . . .

. . . or their droppings.

Keep your eyes peeled for Portbury Wharf’s roe deer!

Related Posts:

Roe Deer Antlers

Roe deer antlers regrow each year Only the male roe deer have antlers. Each year, in late autumn they shed their antlers and grow new ones. It doesn’t take long, after casting off the old ones, before these… Read More


All photographs on this page were taken either on the nature reserve or the salt marsh. They are courtesy of Hilary Kington.

References and further reading: