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Invasive non-native species (UK) – Chinese water deer

chinese water deer

This week’s article by Elizabeth Kimber, part of our invasive non-native species series, focuses on Chinese water deer…

The Chinese water deer (Hydropotes inermis) is native to China, Eastern Asia, North Korea and South Korea.  They were first introduced to the UK in 1873, where they were kept within zoos.  They were released into parks from 1896 onwards and were first recorded in the wild in Buckinghamshire in 1944.  They are now well established in parts of the Fens, the Norfolk Broads, and western Bedfordshire; they also occur in Suffolk and are occasionally reported elsewhere.

“Apart from a small group in France, no other non-native populations of this species are known and the native population is under threat. The GB population may currently represent as much as 10% of the total worldwide for this IUCN Red-listed species” (NNSS, 2017).

Chinese Water Deer

Photo credit: GBNNSS ©A.S.Cooke

Identification & Ecology
The Chinese water deer is a small, thickset deer with a brownish-grey pelage. The pelage is redder in the summer, which can be seen in marshland. Males have prominent downward pointing tusks/canine teeth (rather than antlers), which can grow up to 6 centimetres in length. The Chinese water deer has a small tail and no white patch on it’s rump.

Chinese water deer occupy mainly wet habitats, as the name would suggest, but are also present in woodland and on arable farmland. They are most common near reed-beds, swamps, marshes, rivers and streams.

Environmental impacts of the Chinese water deer are thought to be minimal due to the habitat that they occupy, which tends to be robust, in addition to the solitary nature of the Chinese water deer.

The Chinese water deer may have some economic impact as they, like other species of deer, can be a casualty on the road and cause damage to vehicles. They may also eat root crops or cereal when other food is scare.

chinese water deer

Photo credit: GBNNSS ©Crown Copyright 2009

Legislation which attempts to control the distribution of Chinese water deer includes Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 (as amended), which makes it illegal to distribute or allow the release of Chinese water deer into the wild.

Control Measures
The Chinese water deer are the least common wild deer species in the UK, and due to the territorial nature of the species the distribution is largely limited to the Midlands and East Anglia. The Chinese water deer appear to have the least impact on habitats of all the UK deer species when at a reasonable density. The Chinese water deer are therefore not considered to require management beyond standard deer management techniques, although the population distribution is being monitored to ensure the distribution does not drastically increase.


  • Non-Native Species Secretariat (NNSS) HERE.
  • People’s Trust for Endangered Species HERE.
  • The Deer Initiative HERE.

Header Image: GBNNSS ©Crown Copyright 2009

About the Author: Elizabeth Kimber works for an ecological consultancy based in Dorset (Lindsay Carrington Ecological Services Ltd). As part of the role she manages the ecological works for a multi-phase development. She conducts protected species surveys and holds a class 1 bat licence, smooth snake and sand lizard licence. She can be contacted via email: liz (at)