New vision for Scotland’s deer and environment

An alternative vision for Scotland’s iconic deer has been launched by grassroots wildlife managers aimed at balancing new opportunities with resilient environments.

The document, produced by men and women who have ‘culled around a million deer in the last decade’, outlines ambitions for greater domestic consumption of low carbon venison.

It also offers practical tips for greenspace and forest development which deter deer, as well as road and verge design to reduce accidents with deer on roads.

However, it also warns decision-makers that new environmental goals will not be achieved if the people who manage the species on the ground are not consulted and bought into the process.

SGA Deer Vision – the 10 years ahead was launched by members of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s Deer Group, which counts centuries of practical knowledge within its membership.

They believe that viewing deer as a national asset like wind power or fresh water can mean new jobs, low carbon food, better welfare standards and robust environments.

SGA chairman Alex Hogg said: ‘There is a lot of talk about deer in Scotland, usually whether numbers are too high or too low, and there can be a lack of nuance in such a narrow national narrative.

‘Deer are often present because of government policies, not in spite of them. There is much we can do and hopefully this vision adds a practical perspective, moving into an era of increasing environmental awareness.

‘The men and women who have put it together are the people getting their hands dirty, managing deer over 7 million hectares, from hilltops to the coasts and close to our big city centres.

‘If Scotland is to meet its habitat goals, these skilled individuals require to be consulted. They are part of the journey towards positive outcomes.’

The vision, which has been sent to MSPs, outlines ways to utilise an ‘untapped resource’ of recreational deer managers in supervised culls, lessening costs to the tax-payer.

It also encourages investment in community deer larders to grow new local venison markets, create butchery opportunities and to incentivise management to protect habitats.

However, the vision also warns that increased targets for tree planting and habitat restoration will make short-term fencing more of a necessity, not less.

It seeks a proper evaluation of fencing, including new technologies, claiming that rejecting fencing as a tool will mean deer having to be culled in darkness and all year round, with serious consequences for animal welfare and venison quality.

SGA vice chairman, Peter Fraser added: ‘Habitat restoration and tree establishment can take much longer without fencing, which is essentially a short term mitigation measure. The rejection of fencing will cut costs but how far can you compromise the welfare of the species if you are becoming overly reliant on licences from SNH to cull deer all year round and in darkness; something which would otherwise be illegal for welfare reasons?’

West Highlands stalker Lea MacNally concluded: ‘These licences can be necessary, of course. But they must be granted, by law, on condition of “last resort”, when all other mitigation measures have been tried and have failed.

‘So, if fencing is to go, it opens the licensing authority up to potential legal challenge. Has fencing been tried? This is something that will have to be considered carefully.’