Roe deer have always been present at Knepp, albeit in small numbers. Their population remains small in the rewilding project but they contribute another important mouthpiece to the grazing mix, adding to vegetation complexity. Unlike red and fallow deer, they live in families of two or three individuals rather than herds.
Unlike red deer and fallow deer, too, they shyly keep to dense cover, preferring the mixed scrub and woods to the open grassland. They are almost exclusively browsers, nibbling brambles, ivy, tree shoots and saplings. A research project investigating herbivore activity at Knepp showed that roe deer foraging contributes significantly to habitat complexity.
Roe deer are native to Britain, having been here since before the Mesolithic period (6,000 to 10,000 years ago). Forest clearance and over-hunting led to their extinction in England by 1800 but they remained in wooded patches in Scotland. Several reintroductions during Victorian times, and their subsequent natural spread after the Second World War, aided by an increase in woodland and forest planting in the 20th century, has meant that roe deer now number half a million in the UK – 350,000 in Scotland and 150,000 in England, the highest for 1,000 years.