Acknowledgment by government of the substantial recent progress in deer management has been welcomed by estates – but concerns remain over the future regulation of the species.
Scottish Land & Estates, the rural business organisation, made the comments following the Scottish Government’s response to the recommendations of the Deer Working Group.
Proposals include changes to the close season to loosen restrictions around deer culling as well as the normalisation of night shooting subject to trials.
Karen Ramoo, Policy Adviser (Forestry, Conservation & Wildlife Management) at Scottish Land & Estates, said:
“The Deer Working Group issued 99 recommendations in February 2020, many of which conflicted sharply with a report issued by NatureScot two months prior to that which detailed the considerable progress that had been made on deer management in recent years.
“The Scottish Government has taken time to consider those 99 recommendations and we are assured that they have listened to many of the genuinely held concerns of those who manage deer professionally. We would, however, have liked to have seen far greater acknowledgment of the numerous benefits of deer to Scotland including employment, food, tourism and economic for our rural communities.
“The government has said that the close season for female deer will remain in place for the moment and whilst we welcome that, it is an issue which will continue to be reviewed. The prospect of culling pregnant deer, or those with young calves, is deeply troubling to all within the deer management sector and it presents significant animal welfare concerns. Whilst we understand the need to control deer numbers, there is a very real anxiety that measures to do so become unnecessarily severe.
“We also have concerns about the removal of a close season for males which has been accepted by government. This will allow male deer to be culled all year round, exposing them to culling disturbance at particularly sensitive times of the year – namely later winter months when post rut male deer are likely to be depleted in condition with little reserves.
“It is correctly acknowledged that a blanket limit on deer density in Scotland is not the right approach but the government’s response does accept the Deer Working Group figure of 10/sq km as a general upper limit. In recent years, the red deer population had already dropped considerably below this level with around 22% of the population culled annually. Our view, which has been shared by NatureScot, is that grazing impacts should be the key consideration of the need to manage local populations and that this must be considered with the grazing impacts of other herbivores present.
“The normalisation of night shooting subject to trials – which carries welfare concerns and risks relegating deer to pest status – also presents significant misgivings. Safety is of paramount importance and we see risks attached to the welfare of deer and other species as well as those present during the stalking. This feels disproportionate at a time when deer management is already being performed satisfactorily.
“Estates who are heavily involved in responsible and effective deer management are also the ones at the forefront of peatland restoration, woodland creation and other positive biodiversity schemes. We should not lose sight of that and a balance can be struck between responding to climate change targets and valuing Scotland iconic deer population.”