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Red Deer

There are about 900 red deer on the Isle of Rum and the best place to see them is at Kilmory in the North of the island. Kilmory is home to a 40 year study of the species and because they are not culled here they are very tame and easy to see.

Stag and hinds (c) Ali MorrisResearch has been conducted on red deer on the Isle of Rum since 1958. Since 1972, research led by TH Clutton-Brock (Zoology, Cambridge) and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) has addressed wide range of questions using information collected on the red deer in the Kilmory area of Rum concerning the behaviour, population dynamics and the causes of individual variation in reproductive success in both sexes.

By agreement with the Nature Conservancy Council, the annual cull of the Kilmory study area was terminated to allow investigation of the population dynamics of naturally regulated populations and to permit the animals to become habituated to close observation.

In 1984, an associated project on the genetics of the Kilmory population was initiated by JM Pemberton (IEB, Edinburgh). For more than 20 years blood or tissue samples have been collected for over 80% of calves born in the study area and used to investigate the distribution of paternity and the fitness consequences of genetic variation.

The Kilmory Red Deer Research Project

University of Cambridge logoThe University of Edinburgh logo

A full-time field researcher is based in Kilmory, and can recognise every deer in the population using natural and artificial markings. This identification process allows us to monitor the behaviour, movement and reproduction of individual red deer from birth through to death. Our database currently contains information for over 3,500 individually recognisable red deer observed in the Kilmory study area since 1971. The Kilmory red deer population is monitored year round by the full-time field assistant: population censuses are taken five times a month and mortality searches are conducted throughout winter.

Red Deer calf 'hiding' (c) Sean MorrisProcessing a Red Deer calf at capture (c) Ali Morris

A great deal of information is also collected during the two main reproductive events in the deer year: calving (late May to June) and rutting (mid-September to mid-November).

During the calving period, a team of research volunteers work with Kilmory’s full-time field assistant to closely monitor pregnant females. Most calves born each year are caught within a few days of birth, and are marked for future identification, weighed, and tissue samples taken for later genetic analysis.

During the mating season (or rut), adult males compete for access to harems of females. Daily rut censuses are carried across these two months. The identities of the females in each male’s harem are recorded, and the outcome of fights and challenges between males are also monitored.

Recent deer research by the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh include the effects of climate change on a wild population and the effect of female choice during the red deer rut.  See climate change article here and female choice article here.

Autumnwatch star Maximus (c) Ali MorrisStone99 (c) Ali Morris

Look at Edinburgh University Deer Project website here

BBC Autumnwatch - watch some BBC Autumnwatch clips below


Further Reading

For info about books and resources, please visit our Further Reading section

page updated Jan 2020
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