Skip to content

Deer Management on West Exmoor

Silhouette of a red deer stag against a cloudy sky
Silhouette of a red deer stag on West Exmoor | © National Trust Images/Fiona Hailstone

There are two types of deer found on West Exmoor, the red deer and roe deer, both of which are native and a much-loved feature of Exmoor. Find out about their history and how they are managed.

History of deer on Exmoor

It's estimated that Exmoor is home to around 3,500 red deer and fewer than 500 roe deer. Red deer first migrated from continental Europe around 11,000 years ago, taking advantage of lower sea levels that allowed for land passage. Evidence suggests that roe deer populations have existed in the region for over 10,000 years.

Large expanses of Exmoor and southern England were once covered by broadleaf woodland until it was slowly cleared in the bronze and iron age. The Normans protected deer populations by implementing ‘forests’ which are swathes of land reserved for the monarch to hunt deer and other game. By the 15th century, much of Exmoor had been disafforested, with the remaining parts eventually sold by the crown in 1819.

Deer numbers have fluctuated throughout history and in recent times their numbers have been rapidly increasing. It is thought that deer numbers have doubled in England in the last 25 years. The population increase is due to several factors including more growing of crops, increased woodland cover, lack of natural predators, escapees and releases from parkland deer and the 1963 deer act.

A herd of red deer against the sky
Red deer hinds on Exmoor, Devon | © National Trust Images/Fiona Hailstone

Deer Management

Deer on Exmoor are a much-loved feature. However, the deer population has grown rapidly in the recent years which causes significant impact to the woodland, damaging habitats for other wildlife that make Exmoor their home.

The woodland and heathlands of West Exmoor are recognised as being of international importance and are protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation. This means we are required by law to care for the environment in a way that allows this wide variety of flora and fauna to flourish.

As part of our work to protect West Exmoor it is necessary to manage the deer population. We work with deer experts both internally and externtally to agree on a deer management plan.

Download the deer management information pack to find out more about the deer at West Exmoor and our work in this landscape.

A visitor walks along a coastline path with the sun peaking out behind the cliffs in the background at Heddon Valley, Devon

Discover more at Heddon Valley

Find out how to get to Heddon Valley, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

You might also be interested in

Visitors walking at Heddon Valley, Devon

Exploring the Heddon Valley 

Explore the wooded river valley reaching inland down to the sea at Heddon's Mouth. Heddon Valley's walking routes include two accessible routes for all-terrain mobility scooters with Tramper.

Hunter's Inn on a misty morning at Heddon Valley, Devon

History of Heddon Valley 

Find out more about the history of The Hunters Inn and Woody Bay. Discover tales of fraud and fire and how the estate became increasingly popular with Victorian tourists.

Visitor carrying a tray of coffee and cake in the cafe at Llanerchaeron, Wales

Eating and drinking at Heddon Valley 

Find out where to eat and drink in this wooded valley on Exmoor, from classic pub lunches in the historic Hunters Inn to takeaway food and ice cream from The Pantry.

A volunteer and ranger at Leigh Woods, Bristol

Volunteering in North Devon 

Volunteers in North Devon play a big part in caring for over 8,000 acres of land, 50 miles of coastline and 101 miles of footpath. Discover how you can get involved.

Sunshine breaks through the trees beside a woodland path in the Heddon Valley

Our woodland work on West Exmoor 

Discover how the West Exmoor ranger team look after 1,200 acres of woodland, an area roughly the size of 16,000 tennis courts, containing around 400,000 trees.