Diets of red Cervus elaphus and roe Capreolus capreolus deer in Scottish plantation forests were assessed by botanical and chemical analyses of 144 rumen samples. Samples were taken for summer and winter from four forests with a range of deer densities and ratios. Red deer ate mainly grasses in summer, and a mixture of sedges, rushes, grasses and heaths (ericoid plants) in winter. Roe deer ate predominantly forbs (herbaceous plants other than graminoids) in summer, and a mixture of forbs, heaths and tree and shrub browse in winter. The two species ate significantly different quantities of forbs and grasses (P < 0.001). Both species ate more grasses and forbs in summer, and more heaths in winter (P < 0.05). There were few differences between forests for either red or roe deer in diet composition or its seasonal variation. Washed rumen contents of roe deer contained more nitrogen than did those of red deer (P < 0.05) in both seasons, and both species contained more nitrogen in summer than in winter (P < 0.05). Proportions of the main plant categories within rumens were compared with their abundance recorded in the ground flora. These comparisons showed roe deer to be highly selective, whilst red deer ate plants in proportions similar to their availability. Niche overlap increased and dietary niche breadths widened during the winter. The main overlap was for heaths Calluna vulgaris and Vaccinium myrtillus in winter. However, C. vulgaris is widespread and common and competition was considered to be more likely for forbs and possibly V. myrtillus: the use of some forb species by red deer in summer may limit their availability to roe deer in winter, when they remain an important dietary item. Consideration of the different digestive specializations of the two species suggested that any dietary competition is likely to affect roe deer more than red deer.